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Longmont Police Report Fewer Homeless, Point to Community Programs

September 22, 2018

After receiving his food, Rory Cleveland, 45, right, who was homeless at the time, gave his name to a HOPE volunteer in September 2017 at Heart of Longmont,

Nearly one year since the start of Boulder County’s coordinated entry system and two months since the full implementation of new police programs, Longmont police are optimistic that the strategy change is working.

Both the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) and CORE (Crisis, Outreach, Response and Engagement) programs, which work to link those experiencing homelessness, addiction or mental health issues with case managers, are now fully staffed.

The police-run Angel Initiative, which connects those with substance abuse disorders with treatment options and other services, has helped nearly 130 people. At least half of those people were homeless when they started, according to Longmont police Deputy Chief Jeff Satur.

Satur said they have learned that the criminal justice system isn’t equipped to solve these issues.

“It’s not really effective for a person that has no money, that has no home, that has no work,” he said.

Instead, Satur said police are “trying to treat people with dignity, we’re trying to connect them with services, we’re trying to connect them with mentors.”

More time, more arrests

According to Longmont police Cmdr. Eric Hulett, patrol officers are now spending more time talking with people on the street and evaluating them to see if they could benefit from a service, like substance abuse services.

The city has also spent less this year on cleaning up homeless encampments. It has cost Longmont around $8,000 through June, whereas the total last year was nearly $18,000.

To an extent, the new approach has come from working more with mental health professionals in the CORE and LEAD programs, he said.

“We recognize in the long run it will solve more things,” Hulett said. “In the short run, it’s taking more of our time.”

Still, the number of arrests of those without fixed addresses is increasing, as the number of arrests of those with fixed addresses decreases, according to data provided by the Department of Public Safety.

Those “without a fixed address” includes both transient people, who may couch-surf or live in places for short periods, and homeless people, as Longmont police do not have a way to differentiate between the two in their data.

According to Hulett, the majority of people experiencing homelessness in Longmont don’t commit crimes, but the minority use a lot of police resources.

“Most of the officers know that when they just get that one person into treatment or back on the right path, it’s a huge impact on our calls and the community,” he said.

Between 2012 and 2017, the number of arrests of those without a fixed address increased by just over 51 percent, from 451 arrests to 683 arrests.

Over that same time period, the number of arrests of those with fixed addresses decreased by just over 22 percent, from 3,125 arrests to 2,422 arrests.

Hulett said it’s hard to know if the number of arrests of per capita in the homeless population increased or stayed the same, as the exact number of homeless people in Longmont isn’t known. The 2018 Point-in-Time data found 592 homeless people in Boulder County, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

A community effort

A community conversation held in August produced 12 key themes for the city to focus on, including mental health, accountability, short-term assistance, education and affordable housing, according to Eliberto Mendoza, a community services project coordinator for Longmont.

The conversation is one step in “trying to discern what strategies can be implemented by the community,” Mendoza said. Another is planned for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Longmont Senior Center at 910 Longs Peak Ave.

The police, nonprofits like the OUR Center and HOPE (Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement), and community services are working to move people out of homelessness.

Through the county’s coordinated entry system, more than 1,750 people across Boulder County were screened and connected with the appropriate services through May. Of those, 234 people successfully exited the system.

Anecdotally, police are also reporting a drop in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

The Point-in-Time data shows that in Boulder County the number has decreased by 10 percent since 2015, from 658 people to 592 people.

While Mendoza said the city and its nonprofits play important roles in finding solutions to this issue, he said that the community as a whole needs to make a “concerted and committed effort” to create change.

“Homelessness is a complicated societal issue and (...) participation from the larger community will be needed,” he said.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com

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