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Caring for Denver Foundation in the news.

Caring for Denver opens $10M grant opportunity to fund mental health, trauma and addiction support for youth - Colorado Politics, 11/10/2020

By Alayna Alvarez

Colorado Politics

The Caring for Denver Foundation announced a $10 million grant opportunity on Tuesday for organizations working to provide mental health, trauma and substance misuse support for young people and their families.

“We’re looking for innovative mental health and substance misuse approaches that are youth-led, focus on the strengths of youth, and meet them where they are,” Lorez Meinhold, executive director of the Caring for Denver Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday.

Local organizations and agencies whose priorities are focused on empowering Denver’s youth are encouraged to apply for funding until the deadline of 7 p.m. Dec. 17. The goal of the grants will be to reduce youth harm, increase young people’s “resilience” to life pressures, improve mental health and address substance misuse issues.

“It is important that youth themselves are part of the strategies and how services are delivered,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, who spearheaded the Caring for Denver ballot initiative and now serves as its board chair. “This is an opportunity for young people, who often feel invisible, to take the lead in shaping their futures.”

Caring for Denver considers anyone up to age 26 as a youth, and the total amount available for all grant awards in this funding area is up to $10 million.

“Budgets will be evaluated for their reasonableness,” according to the foundation. “If an organization has already received a grant from Caring for Denver, that will be taken into consideration as well.”

Grant decisions will “favor” programs and projects that are youth-led or “youth-informed” and partner with young people in the work; focus on “innovative” approaches; are “meaningful to youth, where they are, and in the forms that work for them;” engage with young people youth who have been impacted by trauma and have inequitable access to resources and supports; and “value culture in healing and identity.”

All award applicants will be notified of their application status by April 2021, according to the foundation.

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Opens $10 Million Funding Opportunity to Support Mental Health, Trauma, and/or Substance Misuse Among Denver Youth - News Release, 11/10/2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 10, 2020

Caring for Denver Foundation Opens $10 Million Funding Opportunity to Support Mental Health, Trauma, and/or Substance Misuse Among Denver Youth

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation is seeking to partner with organizations and agencies to increase Denver youth’s resilience to life stresses and pressures, address mental health and substance misuse early, and provide supports for families and allies of youth to better support youth in their healing.

Funding for youth is one of the priorities the Denver community identified through a robust engagement process that defines how Caring for Denver addresses the city’s mental health and substance misuse needs. Addressing mental health and substance misuse needs earlier in life leads to less crisis and less need for costly services later in life.

Denver residents also shaped Caring for Denver’s deep commitment to supporting work that dismantles stigma and elevates the voices of those impacted. “We’re looking for innovative mental health and substance misuse approaches that are youth-led, focus on the strengths of youth, and meet them where they are,” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director of Caring for Denver Foundation.

With this investment in Denver youth, Caring for Denver aims to:

  1. Reduce youth harm to self and others through addressing trauma, mental health, and substance misuse
  2. Increase youth ability to demonstrate healthy resilience for coping with challenges and stresses in life
  3. Increase awareness and involvement by family and allies in ways that help youth address trauma, mental health, and substance misuse
  4. Improve mental health and/or reduced substance misuse by youth

“It is important that youth themselves are part of the strategies and how services are delivered,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, Board Chair of Caring for Denver, “This is an opportunity for young people, who often feel invisible, to take the lead in shaping their futures.”

Funding for this initiative is currently open for applications, with a deadline of December 17, 2020.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings more than twenty years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. She has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

From Citizen-Led Ballot Initiative to Community-Centered Solutions for Mental Health and Substance Misuse - Grantmakers in Health, 10/16/20

Views from the Field

Grantmakers in Health

Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director, Caring for Denver Foundation

A need to do better for those with mental health and substance misuse needs was the driving force behind the creation of Caring for Denver Foundation, a nonprofit foundation funded through a city municipal ballot. In 2018, Rep. Leslie Herod championed a citizen-led ballot initiative in Denver, Colorado. She saw firsthand what a lack of available services can do. Her sister has been in and out of the criminal justice system for at least 20 years, due in large part to mental health and substance abuse challenges. Her sister, like so many, never got adequate care. We must do better.

Denver voters agreed. On November 6, 2018, 70 percent of voters approved the ballot initiative. For every $100 spent in Denver, 25 cents now goes toward addressing mental health and substance misuse. This equates to more than $35 million available (dependent on the economy) to fund behavioral health supports. The ordinance required a nonprofit organization administer these funds to be nimble and responsive to community needs. Today, Caring for Denver Foundation is up and running. Our mission is to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action. In less than one year of operation, we have funded 41 organizations and five City agencies and provided $17.3 million in funding to the Denver community.

In our first few months as an organization, we prioritized connecting with the Denver community to gather perspectives and insights on what our initial funding priorities should be. These outreach events, both in-person, over the phone and online (in English and Spanish), led to engagement of 1,600 residents. We relied on their knowledge, experience, and collaboration to identify and inform our funding areas of:

  • Alternatives to Jail: Greater supports, connections, practices, and opportunities to redirect people with mental health and substance misuse crises away from the criminal justice system.
  • Community-Centered Solutions: Use community knowledge, strengths, and resources to foster local connectedness and support.
  • Youth (0-26): The earlier and more resources we can provide Denver’s youth, the less crisis and need for costly services later in life.
  • Care Provision: Better support access to quality mental health and substance misuse care at the right time.

We continue to partner with community in many aspects of our work, seeking involvement and feedback in our processes and decisionmaking. We center our work on outcomes that put communities—and their potential—first.One of the first programs championed in partnership with community leaders and funded was the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) pilot program modeled after a similar program in Eugene, Oregon. The Denver STAR program, launched in June, is currently dispatching a paramedic and a mental health professional—instead of police—in a mobile unit to respond to someone in a mental health or substance misuse crisis, stabilize them, deescalate the situation, and divert individuals from the criminal justice system by connecting them with the appropriate community resources for ongoing care. This program is investing in a community-driven priority of ensuring persons with mental health and substance misuse issues have alternatives to jail that match and meet their needs.The STAR program is just one example of the alternative and innovative ways Caring for Denver is approaching streamlining access to support services and dismantling stigma associated with mental health and substance misuse. We have been keenly focused on identifying and using learning to understand the progress and outcomes of our investments and to help determine what is working and where opportunities exist for evolving as a foundation.Perhaps our biggest learning to date is that putting community at the center is transformational. Prioritizing partnership with community and those with lived experience has been pivotal in our work, helping us build community trust and providing opportunities to invest in community-driven resources and ideas we would not have been connected to otherwise. We are working hard to include the community in defining funding areas, refining visions for investment, proposal review, storytelling and messaging, and defining our role in the community with respect to equity. Some of our learnings from and with community to date include:

Stories build community will and art is an intervention.

  • One of the primary ways the campaign garnered significant support was storytelling. Stories revealed in art, music, and spoken word helped Denver residents find commonality in a way that had, and continues to have, the power to normalize shared struggles with mental health and substance misuse. We are continuing to promote stories as a connector.
  • Community recognizes the arts as powerful solutions for substance misuse and mental health and requested funding be prioritized for innovative and authentic projects that promote the arts as prevention and intervention tools.

Racial disparities are real and should drive investment if solutions are to be sustainable.We heard from trusted community thought partners and community that:

  • Racial and ethnic disparities are a defining characteristic of our criminal justice system, so we must prioritize solutions created by Black, Indigenous and people of color, who are disproportionately impacted.
  • Involving community-based leaders and lived experience, like peer navigation and mentorship, is a key to success.
  • Community wanted Caring for Denver to make public that addressing disparities is a priority. A public commitment was as necessary for building trust as our financial investment, and we are now defining the actions that will ensure we make good on that commitment.

Community is central for healing and it is not always a place.

  • Community members told us more mental health and substance misuse supports need to be locally available and community-authored, helping to ensure people can access supports in times and spaces that make sense for their schedules, life experiences, and cultural histories.
  • We also heard the importance of defining community as more than just a place. It can be a group of belonging defined by the commonalities of the people involved rather than the geography in which they reside.

Learning is a welcomed and helpful approach in the funding space.

  • Instead of requiring logic models and evaluation plans upfront in applications, we have asked grantees to have conversations with us about the work they plan to do and the outcomes they hope to achieve. These conversations have been full of excitement, motivation, and nuances often not described in written applications. In exploring work with grantees, we are discovering important factors in their work (the “secret sauce”) to measure and learn about that may have otherwise been left out.
  • Grantees already have great insights and questions about their work that are right-sized and meaningful for supporting progress, improvements, and adaptations. By taking opportunities to listen to their ideas and expertise, we are more clearly understanding their work. This listening is also shedding light on the community contexts, both facilitating and creating barriers to change. By having a more realistic understanding of the current system from those deeply impacted by it, we hope to improve and refine our funding strategies to address systems changes that promote long-term grantee success.
  • As an organization, we have fully committed to being a learning foundation. We have chosen to take the same learning approach internally, and we include community feedback in our learning. We have been able to refine our funding application, organizational strategy and actions in real-time, and create an organizational culture that values learning and reflection.

In the coming months, we are eager to start assessing the progress of the Foundation’s investments. After all, investments only matter if they are meaningful. This fall, we will evaluate our investments in community supports to address COVID-related trauma, mental health and substance misuse needs, and start our first learning cycles with our Alternatives to Jail grantees. We understand these issues are complex.  We don’t expect to see shifts in the community overnight, but we do expect to be able to show the beginnings of positive changes. We look forward to sharing what we learn with the Denver community and with other foundations as we continue to support community solutions to addressing mental health and substance misuse needs.

Denver City Council proposes more than a half-dozen changes to Mayor Hancock’s budget - Colorado Politics, 10/13/20

Denver City Council President Stacie Gilmore delivered a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock at noon Friday requesting seven changes to his proposed $2.1 billion budget for next year, a time in which the city must close a budget shortfall estimated at $190 million, thanks to the pandemic.

“Denver City Council began to prepare for the 2021 budget process in July of this year. A year that we have faced a global pandemic, civil rights movement, and economic uncertainty,” Gilmore said in a statement. ‘While our city’s general fund faces difficult shortfalls, we as City Council have carried forward the voices and values of equity for our constituents into the budget hearings and our 2021 budget requests.”

Of the council’s appeals, the most robust is to triple the funding for the city’s Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR program, which sends some low-level 911 calls to mental health professionals instead of police.

Hancock had allocated $1 million in 2021 to expand the pilot program, which was previously funded by a grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation. The mayor also planned to transfer STAR from the police department’s oversight and into 911 operations.

But the 13-member council, whose ears have been flooded with cries to defund the police for months, wants $3 million for a “phased expansion” of STAR teams and vehicles to cover each of the city’s six police districts before the end of next year. The council also requested that the program be moved out of 911 operations and placed under the city’s health department.

The council suggested the funds be drawn from the Denver Police Department’s budget or the Fair Elections Fund, which was passed by Denver voters in 2018 and provides public matching funds to candidates for municipal offices.

“This request advances equity through providing non-police resources to reframe safety in a public health, evidence-based and anti-racist approach,” the council’s four-page letter reads to the mayor.

The council set budget priorities in July during their annual retreat, where they agreed to use the city’s stretched resources to address emergencies and the “intense desire” for substantive change with the goal of rebuilding Denver’s economy and communities more equitably than before.

Gilmore and President Pro Tem Jamie Torres, who were unanimously elected to lead the council in July, said before budget hearings began that they were eager for change and the opportunity to apply a “critical equity lens” to the budget to better serve those “who have long gone overlooked and under-consulted.”

The Denver City Council conducted 19 budget hearings with multiple city agencies, some of whom they heard from directly for the first time, including the Office of Children’s Affairs, the Office of the Independent Monitor, and Human Rights and Community Partnership.

Those meetings helped inform the other six changes the council is requesting, such as $220,000 to reinstate funding for five transportation management associations, which the body said have been “an invaluable partner to Denver for more than two decades,” and that eliminating their funding is “short-sighted and will impede our mobility, climate and equity goals.”

The funding for the TMAs is suggested to come from the transportation department’s Office of Business and Community Engagement.

The council is also asking for $391,800 to establish a rental registration and licensure program within the Department of Excise and License, as well as the staff and outreach and education support needed to set the program up successfully. The initiative would help the city “collect city rental property data, find property owners in case of emergencies or code violations, and ensure safe and healthy rentals are maintained in Denver,” the council wrote in its letter to Hancock.

The council suggested support for the rental registration program be drawn from the Fair Elections Fund or the budgets of either the police or safety departments.

Another $300,000 is requested to be added either to Denver Public Library or the Office of Children’s Affairs to support digital inclusion.

“Digital inclusion is a significant issue among low-income and BIPOC communities and our ability to reach households without computers or internet severely impairs our ability to connect effectively,” the council wrote.

The funds should be drawn from the Fair Elections Fund, the police or transportation department, the council recommends.

The Denver City Council is also advocating for $71,700 for the Citizen Oversight Board, which acts as a watchdog for the Office of the Independent Monitor, the oversight agency for the police and sheriff departments.

The funding will convert a part-time, on-call position to a full-time position to “better support the increased size of the Citizen Oversight Board and to help the COB in meeting its obligations to receive, analyze and make recommendations based on community input regarding public safety agencies in Denver — the demands of which are greater than ever.”

The council suggested drawing funds from the Department of Public Safety budget to support this request.

Additionally, the council is asking for $50,000 for the Office on Aging Expansion, which will “ensure the continued work of this office especially in vulnerable neighborhoods that cannot access resources and supports at downtown locations.”

The legislative body recommended pulling dollars from the Fair Elections Fund or police department budget to support their request.

The last ask of the council’s, the only one supported by a majority but not a super majority, is $1 million for legal support for eviction defense.

“The extreme amount of evictions that we are facing are a major issue to address. Predatory and large rental/management companies will permanently harm the most vulnerable and exacerbate our homelessness crisis,” the council warned. “If we do not get in front of this, we will have larger numbers of people on the streets with no real pathway to housing.”

The funding would be funneled into either the Human Rights and Community Partnerships or the City Attorney’s Office, the council advised. The suggested funding source would come from the City Attorney’s Office.

Finally, the council made two other requests without assigned monetary values.

The first is that the Hancock administration ensure the final 2021 budget “definitively funds and explicitly references” that all park resources be adequate to permanently open park restrooms and provide portable restroom facilities in parks without permanent facilities.

“Because the science is clear that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, even if mitigated to some unknown degree by a vaccine, we recommend conservatively assuming that COVID-19 cleaning standards would be required in 2021 when planning for these expenses,” the council’s letter reads.

A Denver City Council supermajority also asked Hancock to transfer youth violence prevention programs from the Department of Public Safety to the Office of Children’s Affairs “to mitigate the negative, unintended consequences of police interaction with citizens who require different services than police are able to provide,” the council wrote.

“City Council’s recommendations are directly rooted in the voices of our neighborhoods and in our core responsibility to ensure essential services are delivered while elevating the needs of our most vulnerable communities,” Torres said in a statement.

The mayor will review the council’s requests and submit his updated proposed budget to council on or before Oct. 19. Once the budget is submitted to council, a public hearing will be held, which is currently scheduled for Oct. 26.

On Nov. 2, the council will vote to amend the budget and will need seven votes to pass an amendment. The mayor can reject an amendment, but that rejection can be overridden by the council with nine votes.

The entire process must be completed by Nov. 9.

Should Police Respond to Mental Health Crises? - Freethink, 9/15/20

By Doug Dais

Freethink

Video: https://youtu.be/qZ4b70dqews

As tensions between law enforcement and the public continue to rise, many are beginning to evaluate the role of the police, and specifically – whether all 911 calls warrant a visit from armed officers.

Advocates for reform say officers aren’t sufficiently trained to respond to mental health crises. They believe we should employ a new class of first responders with expertise in crisis intervention. Here’s why.

Lights and Sirens or Crisis Intervention?

In 2015, the New York City Police Department estimated that officers were called to respond to more than 400 mental health calls per day, totalling over 12,000 per month. A study conducted by the Washington Post that same year found that at least 25% of people who had been shot and killed by police officers were suffering from an acute mental illness at the time of their death.

The need for a better approach to mental health crisis intervention has never been more apparent. There are more than 42 million Americans suffering from mental health issues each year on average, and of those, statistics show that two million will be jailed.

For many suffering from a mental illness, being surrounded by sirens, lights, police, and weapons can often intensify their response and aggravate the situation. Does the criminal justice system grossly mishandle these citizens by treating them with force rather than compassion?

When police are the first responders to those suffering from a mental illness, the situation typically either ends in hospitalization or incarceration. Fortunately, there is a better way to help those suffering from mental illness get the help they need.

As U.S. law enforcement finds itself under intense scrutiny, calls for the reallocation of funding from police departments into agencies of those trained in mental health crisis intervention are sparking interest across the nation.

Memphis Changes Response to Mental Health Crises

In September of 1987, Memphis police officers responded to a 911 call leading them to Joseph DeWayne Robinson, a young man with a history of mental illness who was cutting himself with a knife and threatening to commit suicide.

While it appeared that the only life in danger was Robinson’s, the officers confronted Robinson and demanded that he drop his weapon. Robinson then ran at the officers, causing them to fire their weapons and kill him. This young man’s death led to a community outrage and a call for better mental health resources.

Robinson was a man in a crisis with a well-known history of mental illness and substance abuse. His combative response was likely due to his mental state, but rather than de-escalating the situation, the officers responded with force since it was perceived that their lives were in danger.

Officers and dispatchers can volunteer to attend 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

The outrage which followed Robinson’s death led to the creation of Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT. CIT became a voluntary program within the department in which officers and dispatchers could volunteer to attend 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

The program’s goals are: “to provide immediate response to and management of situations where the mentally ill are in a state of crisis; prevent, reduce, or eliminate injury to both the consumer and the responding police officer; find appropriate care for the consumer; and establish a treatment program that reduces recidivism.”

Since its inception in 1988, the Memphis CIT program has reduced use of force and restraints, decreased injuries to officers and citizens, lowered arrest rates, and decreased the need for hospitalizations from 40% to 25%. The program’s success has gained national recognition and its model is being implemented in law enforcement departments in Albuquerque, Portland, Seattle, and many others across the U.S.

Some question, though, if 40 hours of training is sufficient to adequately implement meaningful change. The CIT model relies on police officers responding to individuals in mental health crises, but other areas across the country are taking it a step further by employing professional teams of first responders with advanced training in crisis intervention.

Dallas Begins Comprehensive Emergency Response Program

In 2018, the Dallas Police Department partnered with the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, and Parkland Health and Hospital System to launch a comprehensive emergency response program using a model known as “co-response.” RIGHT Care, or the Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team, coordinates between the above agencies to provide the proper and necessary response to each emergency call.

Dallas Fire-Rescue’s Medical Director, Dr. Marshal Isaacs, explains, “If we can better serve individuals who are having behavioral health challenges outside of an ambulance, without the use of police cars, jails, courts, or hospital emergency departments, then the community as a whole has succeeded.”

The program places social workers inside the dispatch center and sends out specialized teams staffed with a mental health professional to respond to any 911 call involving a mental health crisis. The still-new program targeted the South Central Dallas area, as that is the area with the highest concentration of mental health related calls. In that area, the number of patients brought to the ER has dropped by 20% and the rate of incarceration has dropped drastically too.

CAHOOTS’ Crisis Intervention Model Thrives in Eugene

In Eugene, Oregon, a non-profit organization called CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping out on the Streets) responds to mental health crises by sending a two-person team, consisting of a medic and a crisis worker. CAHOOTS, which has been in operation for 30 years, has had so much success in the area that its model is being replicated in other states.

Denver’s similar STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) program launched earlier this year. Executive director of the local Caring for Denver Foundation, Lorez Meinhold, describes, “STAR Response works for a whole set of people where law enforcement response is not needed. 50% of people in our jails right now have at least one or two diagnosed mental health conditions. Jail is not the answer and, in fact, sets people back even further.”

The program estimates that it has saved local police $6 million in the costs of medical services alone.

CAHOOTS’ model has also proven to be a wise investment. The program estimates that it has saved local police $6 million in the costs of medical services alone. But surprisingly, its small budget, $1.8 million in 2018, is a fraction of the local police budget of $68 million, despite the fact that CAHOOTS now responds to almost 20% of the area’s emergency calls.

A Change.org petition has already received nearly 15,000 signatures calling to defund the Eugene Police Department and reallocate a significant portion of funding into the CAHOOTS program.

Reimagining the Role of Police

The American police force has long been a catch-all for all forms of crisis intervention, but programs like these demonstrate how, with trained behavioral health professionals acting as first responders, cities can better support their citizens.

While it may seem radical to institute sweeping change that removes some of the traditional responsibilities of the police force, these changes should be evaluated through the lens of progress. Up until the 1950s, the police were often called upon to be the first responders to medical emergencies, before the creation and implementation of EMT services.

It’s possible that one day, we will look back on the implementation of solutions like RIGHT Care and CAHOOTS not as the end of America’s police force, but as a significant and necessary step in providing all citizens with effective care.

Director’s Note: Janet van der Laak passed away unexpectedly, four weeks after doing this interview. She is remembered as a mother, wife, and passionate advocate for her son and others. Here are a few organizations that support people like Janet’s son, Matthew:

Program uses mental health pros, not officers - The Denver Post, 9/6/20

By Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post

A concerned passerby dialed 911 to report a sobbing woman sitting alone on a curb in downtown Denver.

Instead of a police officer, dispatchers sent Carleigh Sailon, a seasoned mental health professional with a penchant for wearing Phish T-shirts, to see what was going on.

The woman, who was unhoused, was overwhelmed and scared. She’d ended up in an unfamiliar part of town. It was blazing hot and she didn’t know where to go. Sailon gave the woman a snack and some water and asked how she could help. Could she drive her somewhere? The woman was pleasantly surprised.

“She was like, ‘Who are you guys? And what is this?’ ” Sailon said, recounting the call.
This, Sailon explained, is Denver’s new Support Team Assistance Response program, which sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of police.

Since its launch June 1, the STAR van has responded to more than 350 calls, replacing police in matters that don’t threaten public safety and are often connected to unmet mental or physical needs. The goal is to connect people who pose no danger with services and resources while freeing up police to respond to other calls. The team, which is not armed, has not called police for backup, Sailon said.

“We’re really trying to create true alternatives to us using police and jails,” said Vinnie Cervantes with Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, one of the organizations that helped start the program.

Though it had been years in the making, the program launched just four days after protests erupted in Denver calling for transformational changes to policing in response to the death of George Floyd.

“It really kind of proves that we’ve been working for the right thing, and that these ideas are getting the recognition they should,” Cervantes said.

No day is alike, according to the two professionals from the Mental Health Center of Denver who work out of the van — Sailon and Chris Richardson.

The team has responded to an indecent exposure call that turned out to be a woman changing clothes in an alley because she was unhoused and had no other private place to go. They’ve been called out to a trespassing call for a man who was setting up a tent near someone’s home. They’ve helped people experiencing suicidal thoughts, people slumped against a fence, people simply acting strange.

“It’s amazing how much stuff comes across 911 as the general, ‘I don’t know what to do, I guess I’ll call 911,’ ” Richardson said. “Someone sets up a tent? 911. I can’t find someone? 911.”

The city has touted the program, still in its pilot, as an example of progress as it is barraged with criticism during and after the protests.

“It’s the future of law enforcement, taking a public health view on public safety,” Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said. “We want to meet people where they are and address those needs and address those needs outside of the criminal justice system.”

Pazen doesn’t think an expanded program would reduce the number of police officers needed by the city but it would allow them to focus on other priorities, such as violent crime and traffic fatalities. The STAR van handles a small fraction of the department’s annual 600,000 calls, but the department is tracking calls across the city to see how many could be handled by the STAR team if it were to expand.

The department has seen an increase in the number of mental health related calls over the last few years, he said, and data collected by the state shows that about a third of the people in Denver’s jails are unhoused.

“Instead of putting people in handcuffs we’re trying to meet their needs,” Pazen said.
The STAR program builds off the city’s co-responder program, which has paired mental health professionals with police officers since 2016 on calls where a person is suspected needing mental health services. The 17 mental health professionals responded to 2,223 calls in 2019 and the city’s Department of Public Health and Environment pays the Mental Health Center of Denver about $700,000 a year for its services. The co-responder program, which started with three mental health workers, is hiring now to expand to 25 such professionals, Pazen said.

The combination of STAR, the co-responder program and regular police units creates a sort of continuum of response that dispatchers can choose from, Richardson said. So far, the most common calls the van responds to have been trespassing and mental health checks.

“Once upon a time, someone called and police were tagged in to see what was going on,” Pazen said. “And I think we’re at a point where we’re realizing that police don’t have to be the first people all the time.

During STAR’s six-month pilot program, the van is operating between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in central downtown and along South Broadway. Eventually, the community groups want to move the STAR program from underneath the police department and manage it themselves, an idea Pazen said he supports.

The pilot program was paid for by a grant from Caring for Denver, a pot of money for initiatives to address mental health and substance abuse collected through a sales tax. The foundation managing the money awarded $208,141 to launch the STAR program. Though sales tax revenue is expected to decline in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cervantes said the city should make STAR part of its budget and expand it citywide.

“I’m not so much worried about the funding being there, it’s about the will to get funding to the right places,” Cervantes said.

Organizers are working to help other cities adopt the program. Aurora city leaders are considering launching their own program as they face protests about police brutality and pressure to reshape emergency response. One of the perks is the team often has the luxury of working with a person for two hours if needed, Sailon said. They’re able to build lasting relationships and connect people to longterm support.

“The rapport we’ve been able to build with people is really incredible,” Sailon said. “Something’s on the right track.”

Denver Aims To Expand Behavioral Services In STAR Program - CBS Denver, 8/24/2020

DENVER (CBS4) – More than 55 law enforcement agencies across Colorado participate in co-responder programs, pairing law enforcement and behavioral health specialists. The Mental Health Center of Denver said the capital city’s co-responder program, known as Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), started with four professionals in 2016.

(credit: CBS)

Now, they have 32, but they’d like to expand their reach of services.

“We have a different response to 911 calls that don’t require law enforcement response and we want to be able to show efficacy in that. We’re getting on their level, trying to come at situations more trauma-informed. We’re having discussions about why 911 was called and how do we help solve whatever’s going on in that moment. Sometimes, someone just needs to talk for a second,” said Chris Richardson of Mental Health Center of Denver.

Denver City County will visit a resolution approving a proposed agreement between the City and County of Denver and Mental Health Center of Denver (MCHD) for expansion of the Denver Co-Responder Program with the Denver Police Department.

The council will discuss approving a contract with MHCD for $1,227,161 for the expansion of the program funded by the 2019 Caring 4 Denver grant.

“It would allow for more social work to the community, to be able to connect individuals to the right support and community connection. We don’t have anyone who works overnight. That might be the next iteration in the future, how do we get a 24/7 model?” said Richardson.

During this initial phase, STAR’s services are limited to central downtown.

For STAR, mental health agencies got together with paramedics from Denver Health, using money from the voter-approved Caring 4 Denver ballot question.

The pilot began amid nationwide protests against police brutality, and viral incidents leading to demands for police reform are still occurring. Richardson says the need for these alternative responses isn’t going away.

“When 2021 rolls around, we can say this is a successful pilot and we’d like to expand this to the entire city of Denver,” said Richardson.

COVER STORY | Denver's deadly crime wave swells amid a 'perfect storm of circumstances.'

  

Denver has reached a boiling point.

Gripped by a global pandemic, soaring unemployment, unrest from racial injustice and an unending homeless crisis, residents are scared. They’re angry. They’re stressed and uneasy.

Increasingly, they are also dying, as the city faces yet another setback: a surge in shootings and killings.

Meanwhile, an embattled police department is caught between demands that they crack down harder on every crime and the cries to defund the police. Some worry law enforcement’s pandemic-era policies — curbing low-level arrests, allowing early release of certain prisoners and breaking up fewer homeless encampments — could be behind the bloodshed. Others point to the pandemic and the systemic issues — poverty, racial disparities, distrust of police and the prevalence of firearms — that have come to a head as a result.

It’s too soon to draw conclusions. Criminologists estimate it could take years to explain the trends. What is known, however, is that “a perfect storm” is upon us and no one can tell when clearer skies will emerge.

“We have not faced these types of challenges,” Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said in an interview with Colorado Politics. “We’ve had a pandemic with the flu of 1918; we’ve had economic strife with the Great Recession and the Great Depression; we’ve had civil unrest in the late 60s, early 70s. But we haven’t had them all at the same time,” he said.  “All of this divide that just keeps compounding on one another has really, I believe, contributed to the types of challenges that we are seeing in town.”

Virus Outbreak Colorado

From left, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, special operations division commander Patrick Phelan and Greggory LaBerge, head of the department’s crime laboratory, at a city event in May 2020.

Troublesome trends

This year is ominously positioned to be the city’s bloodiest in years.

Shootings and killings were up 50% between January and mid-July compared with the same period last year, data from the Denver Police Department shows. At least 48 homicides have occurred as of Aug. 3, and by that time in 2018 — Denver’s deadliest year in a decade — the city had recorded 36.

Those numbers were down in Denver in the first three months of the year. But starting in April, nearly two months prior to protests, Pazen said there were “dramatic increases” in shootings compared to a three-year baseline, and killings have continued to climb since.

Often caught in the crossfire are the city’s “most vulnerable,” Pazen said, people of color living in underserved neighborhoods, including East Colfax, Elyria-Swansea, Green Valley Ranch and Montbello.

What’s worse, they’re also young: At least nine kids have died by homicide this year, DPD reports.

“The rise in crime, particularly youth violent crime, is unacceptable,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said July 27 during the annual State of the City address. “I will never allow it to be normalized in our city.”

“We are seeing some pretty heavy violence and some pretty heavy crimes being committed,” said Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Safety, during a briefing in front of the Denver City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee. “It is quite scary.”

Too frequently as of late, Pazen said, “people are resorting to the highest levels of violence” over some “pretty minor issues,” a pattern he said is “never OK in a civil society.”

Denver is far from facing these issues alone, however. Major cities across the country are also in distress.

Violent crime in Dallas increased more than 14% from April to June, the Associated Press reports, and homicides in Philadelphia jumped 20% for the week ending July 5 over the same period last year. In Chicago, homicides were up nearly 40% in the last week of June and the first week of July compared with last year, according to CNN, and in Los Angeles, there were 19 homicides between June 21 and July 5, compared to nine the year prior, the LA Times reports.

Some smaller cities aren’t immune, either, including Colorado Springs and Aurora. Twenty-two people were killed in Colorado Springs during the first seven months of 2020, a 57% spike compared to the same time period last year. In Aurora, at least 23 people were killed from January through July, a surge of 53% compared with the same time period last year, according to The Denver Post.

Still, the increases don’t detract from the country’s decades-long improvements in violent crime, which has fallen sharply since the 1990s. Cities seeing spikes today are still relatively safer than they were several years ago.

For countless reasons, 2020 is proving to be an “anomaly,” experts say.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a “different set of emotions,” Pazen explained. “Not just here in Denver, not just in Colorado, but throughout the country,” cities are withering under “fear, stress, anxiety, anger — related to the political divide, related to the global pandemic, related to the economic challenges and certainly related to the social issues we are grappling with.”

‘Over the economic edge’

This year has dealt a “perfect storm of circumstances,” one of the strongest factors being joblessness from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, said Paul Taylor, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs.

Joblessness is a factor correlated across time with an increase in gang crime, he said, including violent crime, and is “disproportionately impacting younger and minority communities.”

Urban Peak, a Denver-based nonprofit serving youth experiencing homelessness, was funding about 65% of young people’s rent at the start of the outbreak; that number had shot up to 95% by early August due to the loss of jobs, according to Urban Peak CEO Christina Carlson.

Across Denver, nearly 554,000 unemployment claims were filed between March 7 and July 20, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

“Research has shown a great deal of correlation and causation between economic conditions and crime, especially violent crime. As the economy turns down, crime turns up,” said Andre Adeli, a former public defender in Denver and a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

The “overwhelming majority” of those typically charged with crimes, Adeli noted, are poor and are eligible or may already be receiving public assistance.

“Economic downturns send folks over the economic edge,” he explained, “and they turn to criminal behavior to either get back to where they were or become violent in their inability to redirect their anger and frustration at the unfortunate turn in their lives.”

Denver has been gripped by a homeless crisis that started well before the pandemic, but the loss of jobs and looming rents means the desperation could get worse.

On July 23, one man was killed and two were injured during a shooting at a homeless encampment near the Colorado Capitol. A month earlier, a man experiencing homelessness was stabbed to death at the National Western Complex, which has been converted into a large emergency homeless shelter for men during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the city is conducting encampment sweeps that send people into residential neighborhoods to find somewhere else to sleep as officials scramble to find a stopgap solution.

“Just like we saw with the shooting, those that prey on vulnerable populations and crime issues surrounding the vulnerable populations are something that we are very concerned with and also impacts on neighborhoods as well,” including break-ins and burglaries, Pazen said. “We have to work together to try to address these social harms that often lead to crime issues.”

“Joblessness has an impact on services that are being provided as well,” Taylor said, with some care facilities being short-staffed or even closed due to the fallout from COVID-19.

Libraries, which have historically served as safe havens rich with resources for unhoused populations, have also closed their doors out of pandemic precautions.

It’s true for the homeless population, Taylor said, but it’s also true for young people, many of whom were involved in school programs that were cut short or ended altogether.

‘Kids killing kids’

LaKeshia Hodge is the executive director of Struggle of Love, a nonprofit based in Montbello that serves disadvantaged youth and families. Her organization, a recent recipient of the city’s microgrants to reduce youth violence, beefed up its staff to help with enormous community needs, from running a food pantry to keeping kids safe.

Hodge described a phone call her organization received just a day earlier.

Kids who lived five or six blocks away from the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver in Park Hill were afraid to walk there, so they called Struggle of Love to pick them up and give them a ride.

“They are that afraid that they don’t even want to walk the streets in their neighborhood because of all of the violence,” Hodge said. “We don’t know if people are being targeted, if it’s an isolated incident, if it’s gang-related … it’s just crazy.”

When Adeli was a public defender, he often represented young people charged with violent crimes, including murder.

“The sentiment that I heard consistently from them was: It’s hard not to look guilty when everyone is watching you, and it’s hard not to get sick, tired and angry about everyone watching you,” he said. “As a result, there is always a simmer ready to boil over.”

Adolescence itself is “already a simmer,” he said, but for people of color, especially young men, “the heat seems to be always on, and without protective factors, sometimes they catch on fire and it spreads.”

A lack of supervision and guidance from family and mentors, he said, can act as gasoline.

“Surges in hostility among youth can become exacerbated when the adults in their lives,” such as parents, teachers and counselors, “become distracted by economic downturns,” he said. “The more severe the downturn, the less supervision and opportunities to notice changes that need interventions. Gang affiliations increase, turf battles emerge, gun sales go up, and the next thing you know you have kids killing kids.”

There’s also a desperate need to feel safe, a teenager named Maria explained to Hancock in a taped discussion about youth violence.

“A lot of young people go out and get weapons or guns because they feel like that’s the only way to protect themselves. If they have a gun, then you need one, too,” she said. “You gotta protect yourself and your people.”

The latest data for Denver shows that there has been a nearly 50% increase, or about 80,000 more firearm background checks conducted through June this year compared with last year, Pazen said, signifying record levels of gun sales during the pandemic.

Those guns are also getting snatched.

In the first six months of this year, 327 guns were reported stolen, DPD data shows, representing a nearly 27% increase in gun thefts compared to the three-year average. Many of those guns were stolen by kids.

In February, the city handed out 1,200 free gun locks to help fight the issue. Denver gun locks 2 020120

A portion of the 1,200 gun locks supplied by Project ChildSafe and the Denver Police Department. The locks will be handed out across multiple locations in Denver as part of the city’s multipronged plan to help curb youth gun violence.

“Youth are getting access to unsecured guns, and incidents are escalating with tragic results,” Hancock said at the time. “We want to empower every resident to make a difference. Grabbing a free gun lock and securing a weapon is one action we can all take right now to keep young people safe.”

Chris Jandro, who owns Hammer Down Firearms in Wheat Ridge, said in February that Denver’s “feel-good” initiative is “not going to make any impact.”

Instead, Jandro said, Hancock should talk to gun dealers and try to put forward laws “that would actually have an effect on gun violence.”

Fewer incarcerations 

The city is locking up fewer people.

The Denver Police Department reports about 30% of recent violent crime was committed by people who had come in contact with the city or state’s criminal justice system and were released not long after.

The number of arrests and people behind bars has been reduced, primarily to curb the spread of the coronavirus within jails and prisons, which have proven to be hotspots in Colorado and across the nation.

Arrests this year are down by 45% year over year, and the number of people in custody is down by 42% year over year as well. People of color, however, are still disproportionately represented in a city that is overwhelmingly white.

Denver’s law enforcement has conducted “a lot more cite and release” of lower-level offenders than in the past, newly appointed Sheriff Elias Diggins told the Denver City Council safety committee. Officials have also prioritized their early release, as well as the early release of those with less than two months on their sentence, prisoners over 60, immunocompromised offenders and pregnant inmates.

Robinson has repeatedly expressed his commitment to keep inmate populations low post-pandemic.

“If I had the ability to decrease the jail that quickly and there were people in jail that can go out into society that quickly,” Robinson said, “my question is this, and I continue to ask this question every day: Why did we have them in jail in the first place?”

Robinson, who was appointed to lead the safety department in May, said he is challenging Diggins and other leaders in the criminal justice system to focus on that question as well.

More than a decade ago, under former Mayor John Hickenlooper’s leadership, the city adopted what is called “broken windows” policing, the notion that cracking down on minor criminal activity, like a broken window, will prevent more serious crimes down the line.

Hickenlooper told CPR in June that it was a “brief experiment” following the 2003 police shooting of Paul Childs, a Black 15-year-old developmentally disabled boy. “I don’t think it was successful,” he said.

Researchers at the time were skeptical, but now the consensus tends to be that the policing strategy is fruitless at best and had deepened disparities at worst.

“We did not see it as being effective back then,” Pazen said, “nor do we try to emulate any of that.”

Republican state Sen. John Cooke from Greeley, a retired sheriff for Weld County, said the spike in deadly crime is not the failure of law enforcement.

“The police are doing their job,” he said. “I think the legislature is to blame largely for the increase because of sentencing reform, of letting criminals out early, of reducing bonds. It’s a joke.

“I don’t know when Democrats are going to start to realize that when you let people out of prison, you let violent criminals out early or you don’t sentence them like they should be, they are going to commit crimes when they get out,” Cooke told Colorado Politics in a phone interview.

Residents concerned that a long-term strategy to jail fewer people could threaten their community are correct, Adeli said. “Their communities are in danger, and now can be an excellent opportunity for them to step up and partner with the youth, particularly the males, to create constructive opportunities and safer communities.”

“We have to understand that the place for violent offenders is in jail,” Robinson told Colorado Politics. But for people who commit nonviolent crimes, “I’m looking for an alternative response from the judicial system and an alternative response by, frankly, my law enforcement officers that will allow for us to think of things a little differently.”

A search for solutionsVirus Outbreak No Crime

In this April 9, 2020, photo, a Tesla police car sits in front of the City/County Building after red and white lights were illuminated to show support and gratitude for first responders and medical personnel during the outbreak of the new coronavirus in Denver.

Since Pazen was appointed by Hancock to police chief in 2018, his focus has been on “precision policing,” using Census tract data on poverty, public health, education and more to understand specific neighborhood needs.

The needs of the city’s affluent Cherry Creek neighborhood, for example, are vastly different than the challenges faced in low-income neighborhoods, like Sun Valley. As those needs are better understood, it becomes clearer, he said, how best to connect residents with city services, nonprofits and faith-based groups to help meet those needs.

Robinson is also reimagining the connection between law enforcement and community.

After racial justice protests gripped the city, Robinson began working to address the public outcries for systemic change, including creating the Office of Criminal Justice Transformation and Policy. His goal for the new division is to “spearhead some of the community-led efforts” that come out of task forces set up to re-envision policing and draft and implement those new policies.

Robinson’s boss is, too. Last year, Hancock convened the Youth Violence Action Prevention Table, led by City Attorney Kristin Bronson and members of his administration, to work with youth to address gaps and opportunities in youth violence prevention and intervention efforts and come up with a “community-driven strategy” to address the problem from “a public health perspective, not just a law enforcement perspective.”

Taylor, the assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Colorado Denver, echoed the importance of prioritizing mental health, particularly during the pandemic, which requires people to be distanced from each other to prevent further spread. Isolation is a trigger for many struggles, including depression and loneliness.

Researchers put together national models using data collected after major events, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and economic downturns, and found a likely increase in suicides, overdose deaths and substance use disorders.

Denver is experiencing a surge in overdose deaths from fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that’s 50 times more potent than heroin.

Between January and May, the city withered under a 282% increase in fentanyl-related overdose fatalities compared with the same time period last year, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment reports.

The city’s four-year-old co-responder program and newly created Support Team Assisted Response pilot program are funded by the Caring for Denver Foundation and dispatch mental health professionals and paramedics, respectively, to non-threatening 911 calls alongside or in place of an armed officer.

The overarching goal of the programs is to shift the city toward treating people more like patients than prisoners.

In late July, the Caring for Denver Foundation announced $1.7 million in grants for the Denver Department of Public Safety, the Denver Sheriff Department, the Denver County Court and the District Attorney’s Office.

Denver’s safety department received a three-year grant totaling $539,000. Most of that money will go toward a full-time and part-time social worker in Denver Public Schools to provide “universal and targeted” interventions for youth struggling with substance misuse, as well as a part-time trauma specialist who will work with partner schools to implement trauma-informed practices within the schools, according to DOS spokesperson Kelli Christensen.

The remaining $46,325 will fund Denver Health’s Substance Abuse Treatment Education and Prevention Program, which Christensen said will be available to youth in schools or in the community.

The Denver Sheriff Department received a one-year $340,000 grant, which Diggins told Colorado Politics will “enhance and support” programs for those in custody through case management services.

“As we strive to return our fellow residents back to our communities better than how they arrived, we will continue to look for funding and partnerships that have the same goal,” he said in a statement.

The Denver County Court will receive a two-year grant for a total of $600,000, and the District Attorney’s Office will receive a one-year grant for $300,000.

With that money, the DA’s office plans to double the number of accepted diversion cases from 60 to 120 and to expand services to clients, including referrals to mental health and substance treatment services, as well as offering linkages to sustainable employment opportunities.

“Our Adult Diversion Program has been very successful in keeping people charged with nonviolent crimes out of the criminal justice system,” Denver DA Beth McCann told Colorado Politics in a statement. “That program is providing an alternative to incarceration and as one recent graduate said, helping people ‘grow to see their own light.’ ”

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver, who spearheaded the Caring for Denver ballot initiative in 2018 and now serves as the foundation’s board chair, said, “When we don’t adequately fund mental health and substance misuse, we pay for it in the criminal justice system. These funded programs focus on care rather than incarceration.”

Answers in community

Caring for Denver also granted $5 million to 13 local nonprofit organizations, the majority of whom are run by people of color, that are working to address racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal justice system “by reflecting the community they serve and using community authored solutions,” Caring for Denver’s executive director Lorez Meinhold told Colorado Politics in an email.

All grantees will be working toward and reporting on impacts made around lowering entry into the justice system, reducing recidivism, and improving mental health and substance misuse supports post-release.

Community is key to solving crime, criminal justice experts agree.

Small programs can carry “a lot of currency in the community with young people, which law enforcement doesn’t have,” said Christie Donner, the executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, “but it just needs to get to scale and it needs to be separate from a criminal justice response, because it can be very dangerous for community people if they’re seen to be aligned with police when they try to do these kinds of street-level interventions.”

Without major investments in strategies rooted in community, Donner said, the city will never see change. A number of strategies were tried to stem the so-called “Summer of Violence” of 1993, she said, when youths involved in gang activity caused numerous crimes in the city.

“It feels like we’re just kind of trying to repeat the s*** that we did 20 years ago that didn’t work, you know, putting a task force together, increasing surveillance and suppression on young people — predominantly young men of color — routing them through the criminal justice system and trying to deal with it that way,” she said. “We have never really deployed community-based strategies in any way to scale.”

“If people want to reduce crime, we need to invest broadly in communities by creating positive and constructive opportunities for people through community centers, nonprofits to help with job training and placement, community gardens, volunteers, and I could go on,” Adeli echoed. “Community policing is not only about a change in the police but also a change in the community. Sometimes the police lead, but that doesn’t mean that the community cannot.”

“The police department can’t do this alone, and the community can’t do this alone,” Pazen agreed. “We have to work together.”

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Community-Centered Solutions Funding Opportunity

Media Contact: Taylor Roddy

(312) 208-6483
taylor@caring4denver.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 5, 2020

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Community-Centered Solutions Funding Opportunity

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation is inviting proposals for a new $5 million dollar Community-Centered Solutions funding opportunity for innovative community-based mental health and/or substance misuse supports that prioritize access, equity, community connections, and/or address stigma.

With investments in this priority area, Caring for Denver aims to achieve:

  1. Greater public visibility on mental health and substance misuse that helps reduce stigma and/or increases understanding and supportive actions by community
  2. Increased connections to and use of social networks and relationships that reduce isolation
  3. Increased use of supports meeting people where they are that address mental health and/or substance misuse needs in community

“We need to meet people where they are – where they live, learn, work, play, and trust. We need to promote the power of community and support efforts that encourage connectedness” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director of Caring for Denver Foundation.

“Innovation comes from community – this support will ensure the mental health and substance misuse needs are being addressed where people are and in the way that best meets their needs,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, Board Chair of Caring for Denver.

With robust input from over 1,600 community residents, Community-Centered Solutions, was identified an immediate area of need. The full strategic funding priorities report including other areas of focus can be found at caring4denver.org/about.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

We are failing with COVID, let's not fail on mental health

 

Caring for Denver Foundation grants $6.7M to prioritize paths to care over incarceration


July 30, 2020

 

Bennet: It's cheaper, smarter to educate when we incarcerate

The Caring for Denver Foundation is awarding $6.7 million to community-based nonprofits and city departments working to move Denver toward embracing a criminal justice model that treats people more as patients rather than prisoners.

Grants will support programs that focus on alternative responses to criminal justice, including those that focus on public and mental health, trauma and substance misuse. The goal is to divert Denverites from the criminal justice system and provide the health support they need to recover.

“The programs Caring for Denver funded represent what we heard from community partners — involving community-based leaders and people with lived experience is a key to success,” Caring for Denver’s executive director Lorez Meinhold told Colorado Politics in an email. “Additionally, racial and ethnic disparities are a defining characteristic of our criminal justice system and these grantees strive to address these disparities by reflecting the community they serve and using community authored solutions.”

The foundation was founded in 2018 by Denver voters, who agreed to allocate a quarter from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund, now Caring for Denver, to address mental health and drug addiction. Approximately $35 million will go to treatment, recovery and harm reduction services annually. 

Of the $6.7 million in grants announced Tuesday by the foundation, $5 million will fund 13 nonprofit organizations that utilize peers and mentors with lived experience as part of their intervention, which Caring for Denver says is a “key component” to successful recovery. The organizations are as follows:

  • 5280 High School
  • Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado
  • Colorado Circles for Change (Formerly Victim Offender Reconciliation Program of Denver)
  • La Raza Services, Inc.
  • Life-Line Colorado
  • Make a Chess Move (MACM)
  • Mile-High Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
  • Second Chance Center
  • Sobriety House, Inc.
  • The Center for Trauma & Resilience
  • The Delores Project
  • The Empowerment Program
  • Tribe Recovery Homes

The remaining $1.7 million will be distributed among the Denver Department of Public Safety, the Denver Sheriff Department, the Denver County Court and the District Attorney’s Office.

City ordinance requires that at least 10% of Caring for Denver tax revenue in any year be directed to the City and County of Denver, whose allocation is determined by the foundation’s board of directors. The dollars must provide funding for a facility and staffing to create alternatives to jail for people struggling with mental health and/or substance misuse; fully fund the co-responder program for mental health experts to ride along with Denver police; and support training for first responders, including paramedics and fire response, on how to properly assess and respond to people with mental health or addiction needs.

Denver’s safety department received a three-year grant totaling $539,000. The majority of those funds will go toward a full-time and part-time social worker in Denver Public Schools to provide “universal and targeted” interventions for youth experiencing issues with substance misuse, as well as a part-time trauma specialist who will work with partner schools to implement trauma-informed practices within the schools, according to DOS spokesperson Kelli Christensen.

The remaining $46,325 will fund Denver Health’s substance use treatment services through the Substance Abuse Treatment Education and Prevention Program, which Christensen said will be available to youth in schools or in the community. 

The Denver Sheriff Department received a one-year $340,000 grant, which newly appointed Sheriff Elias Diggins told Colorado Politics will “enhance and support” programs for those in custody through case management services.

“As we strive to return our fellow residents back to our communities better than how they arrived, we will continue to look for funding and partnerships that have the same goal,” he said in a statement.

The Denver County Court will receive a two-year grant for a total of $600,000, and the District Attorney’s Office will receive a one-year grant for $300,000.

With that money, the DA’s office plans to double the number of accepted diversion cases from 60 to 120 and to expand services to clients, including referrals to mental health and substance treatment services, as well as offering linkages to sustainable employment opportunities. 

“Our Adult Diversion Program has been very successful in keeping people charged with nonviolent crimes out of the criminal justice system,” Denver DA Beth McCann told Colorado Politics in a statement. “That program is providing an alternative to incarceration and as one recent graduate said, helping people ‘grow to see their own light.’” 

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver, who spearheaded the Caring for Denver ballot initiative and now serves as the foundation’s board chair, said the grants will be “transformational” for more than 13,000 Denverites.

“When we don’t adequately fund mental health and substance misuse, we pay for it in the criminal justice system,” Herod said in a statement. “These funded programs focus on care rather than incarceration.”

Caring for Denver Foundation Approves $6.7M in Grants to Support Alternative Responses to Criminal Justice Involvement

Contact: Taylor Roddy (312) 208-6483
taylor@caring4denver.org

July 28, 2020

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation under leadership from Executive Director Lorez Meinhold and Board Chair State Rep. Leslie Herod recently approved $6.7M in grants to community-based non-profit organizations and departments within the City and County of Denver offices.

Grants will support programs that help appropriately move Denver from a criminal justice response to a public health, trauma, mental health and substance misuse crisis response.

Through these efforts, Caring for Denver, in collaboration with community partners and agencies, will reduce incarceration, recidivism, and ensure those released from the criminal justice system have the resources they need. Racial and ethnic disparities are a defining characteristic of our criminal justice system and the funded proposals seek to address these issues by supporting community-authored and led solutions.

More than 13,000 Denver residents will receive services and other support from the organizations to break cycles of addiction, decompensation, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Over 70 percent of the funded organizations utilize peers and mentors with real-life experience as part of their intervention which is a key component to successful recovery.

Of the $6.7 million, $5 million will go to the following community-based non-profit organizations:

  • 5280 High School
  • Brain Injury Association of Colorado
  • Colorado Circles for Change (Formerly Victim Offender Reconciliation Program of Denver)
  • La Raza Services, Inc.
  • Life-Line Colorado
  • Make a Chess Move (MACM)
  • Mile-High Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
  • Second Chance Center
  • Sobriety House, Inc.
  • The Center for Trauma & Resilience 
  • The Delores Project
  • The Empowerment Program
  • Tribe Recovery Homes

The remaining $1.7 million will fund the offices within the City and County of Denver and as stipulated by the founding ordinance for the Foundation. Those offices are:

  • City & County of Denver, County Court
  • City & County of Denver, Denver Sheriff
  • City & County of Denver, Department of Public Safety
  • City & County of Denver, District Attorney’s Office

“This work will be transformational for more than 13,000 Denverites. When we don’t adequately fund mental health and substance misuse, we pay for it in the criminal justice system. These funded programs focus on care rather than incarceration,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, Board Chair.

With robust input from over 1,600 community residents, Alternatives to Jail, along with three other priority funding areas; Community-Centered Solutions, Youth, and Care Provision, were identified as the most immediate areas of need. The full strategic funding priorities report can be found here.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

'If the Police Aren’t Needed, Let’s Leave Them Out Completely’

Stateline Jun23
Protesters in Denver call for the defunding of police in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. Cities across the country have begun shifting resources from police to programs that respond to 911 calls for homelessness, drug addiction and mental health crises.
David Zalubowski/The Associated Press

Every weekday morning, mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon turns on her police radio in downtown Denver and finds out who she can help next. She, along with a paramedic, jump in a repurposed city van, stripped of its blue lights and official insignia, and respond to 911 calls for people experiencing mental health crises, homelessness or drug addiction.

Beginning this month, Denver’s emergency dispatch is sending social workers and health professionals, rather than police officers, to handle nonviolent situations. “If the police aren’t needed, let’s leave them out completely,” said Sailon, program manager for criminal justice services at the Mental Health Center for Denver.

Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response, known as STAR, launched at the beginning of June as a six-month pilot program, funded by a grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation. The fact that STAR began at the height of demonstrations against police brutality was coincidental, Sailon said, but fitting.

Well before protesters recently flooded the streets of America, demanding justice for the death of George Floyd and calling to defund or abolish police departments, several cities across the country had begun shifting resources and responsibilities away from law enforcement to professionals trained to handle emergency calls for nonviolent, crisis situations.

Stateline Jun23
Emergency medical technician Chase Lindquist, left, and mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon respond to nonviolent 911 calls in Denver in an effort to shift first-responder duties away from police. Cities across the country are establishing similar programs.
Courtesy of Mental Health Center of Denver

In San Francisco, for example, fewer than 5% of police calls are to respond to violent crimes, Police Commissioner John Hamasaki told Stateline in an email. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced earlier this month that, along with other changes, the police would no longer respond to noncriminal situations, instead diverting 911 calls to agencies outside law enforcement.

For decades, cities have asked police to manage social problems such as mass homelessness, failed schools and mental illness, said Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College. But it has not worked. The resources that have swelled police departments across the country should be redirected to community-based programs, he said.

“People cycle through emergency rooms, jail lockups and homeless shelters,” he said, “and those problems get turned over to the police to manage.”

Mental health responses can be handled without police if funded and structured well with properly trained and adequately paid professionals, said Amy Watson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies the criminal justice and mental health systems.

But that can be challenging, she said. One of the biggest issues facing community mental health programs is turnover — the pay is low, and people don’t stay.

This takes an investment, she said, which is at the heart of the “defund the police” argument. “We really need to be thoughtful about how we approach this,” she said. “But if we do resource mental health services appropriately, there will be less demand on police to provide mental health crisis response.

“It will not be eliminated, but it could be significantly reduced.” 

Some police advocates, such as Dennis Slocumb, international political director and vice president emeritus of the International Union of Police Associations, welcome programs that shift nonviolent crisis calls from police to social workers. But, he said, that shouldn’t come at the expense of police funding, which could reduce their equipment and training.

Police Can’t Do Everything

Shortly after a gunman killed five Dallas police officers in July 2016, a frustrated then-Chief of Police David Brown told reporters, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. … Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it.”

For several years, public health professionals, law enforcement officials and activists have been debating new approaches to policing.

In many instances, people experiencing personal crises have been killed by police responding to 911 calls from worried friends or family members. People with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police encounter than others, according to a 2015 study by the Arlington, Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

In response, police departments across the country have adopted, among other measures, crisis intervention training, which teaches officers how to safely de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation, sometimes involving people experiencing a personal crisis. Proponents of the program say it can reduce violent interactions between police and the public.

This training, while valuable, is insufficient compared with the training mental health professionals receive, said Slocumb, of the International Union of Police Associations.

“Our training barely scratches the surface,” Slocumb said. “Every time there is something that’s causing a problem in society and people don’t know who else to call in the middle of the night, we go.

“If you call us to deal with homelessness, I would ask: What tools do we have to deal with that?”

But what if society stops asking police to respond to those situations in the first place, public health advocates ask.

Police officers are not mental health experts and in complex crisis situations, a trained clinician can be invaluable, said Sailon, in Denver. Last week, for example, she responded to an emergency call from an exasperated, wheelchair-bound man in downtown Denver.

The man told Sailon he needed to connect with the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she had contacts from her years in this field. “Oh my God,” her contact there said, “I’ve been looking for him for three months.” Sailon brought him to the hospital shortly after.

“If officers showed up on the scene, I don’t really know there’s a law enforcement solution for that,” Sailon said. “This is case management stuff. This is social work stuff.”

Still in its early stages, Denver’s STAR has staff to handle around 12 calls a day in the downtown area. The program hopes to expand with more funding, staff, vans and geographic reach after the pilot ends. Ideally, Sailon said, it would operate at all hours and days of the week.

Similar efforts are expanding across the country.

In Albuquerque, Democratic Mayor Tim Keller announced last week he plans to spend the next two months creating a third department of first responders, alongside the police and fire departments, in the New Mexico city to handle calls involving homelessness, addiction and mental health.

“It’s just not working,” he said in an interview. “Fundamentally, this is about looking at a third way of responding to public safety issues in a community.”

The Albuquerque Police Department has, since 2014, been under a federal consent decree for excessive force and inadequate oversight, and has been changing its policing policies to better serve the city of 560,000 residents. A federal judge would have to approve the new agency later this year.

In Austin, city officials recently added funding for mental health professionals to work at the Texas capital’s 911 call center and immediately respond to a person experiencing a crisis.

The Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, known as EMCOT, which has operated since 2013, found that instead of waiting for police to reach out to the team in behavioral health situations, it was more efficient for members to handle crisis calls directly.

Almost all EMCOT’s calls avoid arrest, said Laura Wilson-Slocum, the practice administrator of Crisis Services and Justice Initiatives at Integral Care, the community mental health center for Travis County, Texas. Outreach personnel can assess crises, follow up and connect residents to health care providers or other social services.

“We want to ensure they have the treatment and support they need to last them through the direction of the crisis episode,” Slocum said. “It’s always our goal to strengthen community response to people experiencing mental health crises.”

Integral Care is in talks with the Austin City Council to expand the program with additional funding.

The Austin and Denver police departments did not respond to interview requests.

The Eugene Model

For the past 31 years, Eugene, Oregon, has offered alternative, public-health responses to emergency calls.

Run out of the nonprofit White Bird Clinic, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, known as CAHOOTS, team responds to 911 or non-emergency police calls that may not require law enforcement in the Eugene-Springfield area. Instead of sending police officers, dispatchers send a crisis worker and a medic.

Last year, the team received 24,000 calls. They asked for police backup in 150 cases.

The program is saving local hospitals $4 million every year by providing non-emergency medical care and first aid, said Tim Black, the operations coordinator at CAHOOTS. At the same time, it provides a free service to people in need who would otherwise call a costly ambulance.

Many people in crisis do not need a police officer, he said, but someone to listen or help connect them to services.

“There’s this really tremendous moment that we’re in to talk about something very different for communities’ response to people in need,” Black said. “There are so many different situations where we encounter somebody who is in a profound crisis and it’s all really about unmet needs and lack of resources.”

Black and other members of his team have spoken with people in cities such as Austin, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, about establishing similar programs.

The team also inspired Denver’s STAR program. In 2017, a group of local police reform activists and lawmakers traveled to Eugene to see the program in action. Roshan Bliss, co-founder of the Denver Justice Project, a group dedicated to transforming law enforcement, helped organize the trip. He hopes more cities will act.

“I’m a Black man who’s tired of seeing police hurt people in my community,” he said, “especially when police shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

The movement to abolish or defund the police is not new. It has been a critical element of the protests that grew out of Michael Brown’s death in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. But the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed were an inflection point in this country, making the argument to fundamentally restructure policing more politically tenable, Bliss said, building on decades of activism.

As many other civil rights activists have argued, Bliss said police agencies in this country are rooted in deep-seated racism, established early in this country’s history to track down escaped enslaved persons and bolstered over time to maintain white supremacy.

Police would be needed less, Bliss said, if local, state and federal governments more adequately funded housing, health care and job needs — roots of violence and many emergency calls.

The argument is taking hold. In Minneapolis, where a police officer killed Floyd, the City Council voted earlier this month to disband the Police Department and build a new system focused on public safety. Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey opposed the move, but the Council has a veto-proof majority.

Police abolitionist organizers such as Jae Hyun Shim, a core member of MPD150, which authored a 2018 report exploring alternative public safety measures to the Minneapolis Police Department, are cautiously optimistic.

“I have a lot of confidence in everybody in our city right now that we don’t slip back in a pattern that could potentially create a situation like this again,” Shim said. “We must move away from this system that is harmful and takes actual money away from things that I think will heal us.”

The STAR Van Offers an Alternative to Police
Caring for Denver’s STAR van sends a paramedic and clinician to non-criminal 911 calls. The goal is to avoid unnecessary officer involvement—and to find gaps in Denver’s support systems.

 •  

Caring for Denver Foundation’s newest initiative couldn’t have debuted at a more complicated—and perhaps auspicious—time.

The six-month pilot program, dubbed Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), utilizes a single service van staffed by a mental health clinician and a paramedic. If a 911 operator receives a call about a non-criminal situation—such as reports of mental health emergencies, drug overdoses, or requests for a welfare check—they dispatch the boxy white ride (unless it’s on another call) to the scene instead of police officers.

The STAR van is the newest enterprise from Caring for Denver, a nonprofit founded in 2018 when voters passed the Caring for Denver ballot initiative and funded its mission of addressing mental health and substance misuse issues. More than $200,000 of that money will fund the van’s full-time clinician and two paramedics who will rotate shifts. The community groups collaborating on STAR include Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver Justice Project, Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, and Denver Homeless Out Loud—all of which will evaluate the pilot in hopes of improving and expanding the model throughout the city.

During the trial phase, STAR will serve the central downtown area, the South Broadway corridor to Mississippi Avenue, and the temporary shelters at the Denver Coliseum and National Western Complex (it’s on call Monday through Friday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.). STAR is confidential and gives agency to those it treats, who must consent to being taken to a new location, such as a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or shelter. The STAR team is not law enforcement and does not make arrests.

[Read More: Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million]

Since STAR’s June 1 launch, the van has responded to several calls a day, including requests for welfare checks and reports of intoxicated individuals. Its debut came amid increased calls to defund police departments following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man killed by an officer during an arrest in Minneapolis. And while the program’s stated mission—to provide community-driven alternatives to traditional law enforcement—is considered a key (and timely) step in diverting resources from the police, Caring for Denver partners have been planning a program like STAR for years.

Vinnie Cervantes, a community organizer and the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response’s point person with STAR, says police are often not the best solution to community health problems. “When officers approach a situation, they’re looking for whether a crime has been committed,” he says. “Whereas, STAR’s team approaches somebody with questions about whether they can be treated on the spot or whether they needed to be treated elsewhere. It’s the difference between looking for treatment versus looking for punishment.”

Chris Richardson, a Mental Health Center of Denver staffer who is one of two clinicians overseeing STAR, agrees. “Clinicians have the education background to be able to understand what someone may be going through,” says Richardson, who also points out that encountering a cop can be jarring for a person in need of help. “Sometimes police are trying to get from one call to the next call to the next call. The STAR van actually has the ability to be a little more intentional and a little more purposeful with that individual.”

The goal isn’t just to quell the current crisis, but to prevent a future one. The Mile High City offers a variety of programs designed to assist the population STAR will be helping (such as the Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center providing meals, a job readiness program, and other services for women, children, and transgender individuals facing poverty), and Richardson says the team will guide folks to those resources. “Having those long-term supports in place means that, when the next crisis comes, people can connect with those organizations instead of viewing 911 as their only option,” he says.

Modeled after the Crisis Assistance Helping Out in The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon, STAR is beginning as a pilot program because, Cervantes says, it must answer a variety of questions over the next six months to make sure the model is suited for Denver: How many calls were diverted from the police? How many people in crisis are receiving long-term care and support after their encounter with STAR? Is the community safer?

Complicating those questions will be COVID-19’s many impacts—known and unknown. “There’s going to be fewer unhoused folks on the street because they’re being forced into that shelter to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Cervantes says. “But during this time, there’s an escalation of mental health crises, especially because many people feel isolated. Some of that may skew the data.”

That’s why Cervantes will be examining STAR through another lens, one that depends slightly less on data. “The CAHOOTS program response vans have been successful,” says Cervantes. “But its real success in my mind is the network of services and different resources that CAHOOTS actually takes people to in order to get some level of support or safety.” Cervantes believes STAR, both current and future iterations, will reveal gaps in Denver’s own resources—and guide the city toward creating a more robust safety net for its most vulnerable residents.

Denver safety director, police chief grilled on the floor of Denver City Council

Updated 

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Chief Paul Pazen of the Denver Police Department addresses members of the Denver City Council’s safety committee in the Denver City and County Building on June 17, 2020. 

For the first time since violent clashes broke out between police and protesters in Denver following the death of George Floyd, the city’s public safety director and police chief faced Council members and the public Wednesday morning during a two-hour safety committee hearing held in council chambers.

Councilman Paul Kashmann, who chairs the committee and represents District 6 in south Denver, asked safety leadership on June 1 to come before the group in the coming weeks to address its use-of-force tactics. A week later, the Denver Police Department announced it had banned all chokeholds, will require body cameras for SWAT officers during tactical operations and would mandate a use-of-force report be filed when an officer points a firearm at someone. 

Kashmann also called for the Office of the Independent Monitor to investigate the police department’s response to protesters, which is now underway.

“While I call on Denver Police to stand on higher ground and maintain focus when the pressure builds, I call on myself and my colleagues to do the same,” Kashmann said, addressing a room full of people packed as tightly as social distancing guidelines would allow.

“We talk often about once-in-a-lifetime occasions or opportunities, but this time is different. This may be a once-in-the-history-of-our-country moment when we sit in the midst of a pandemic that limits our distractions and narrows our focus,” he said. “I suggest we make the most of this chance to take a giant step toward creating a community in which justice for all is a reality and not just a promise.”  

‘Criminal justice transformation’

Murphy Robinson, who was appointed executive director by Mayor Michael Hancock in May, acknowledged the recent “remarkable outcry” for systemic change and told those who have taken to the streets, written emails and letters and participated in town halls: “I hear you. I see you.”

Under his leadership, Robinson pledged that the city’s public safety department — which includes the police, fire and sheriff departments — would rise above its “storied history” of violence and unaccountability and become a national example of change.

“I dedicate to the citizens of Denver, the mayor, the city council and all the people that serve in the Department of Public Safety that we will be a leader in the systemic and strategic transformation in the criminal justice system,” he promised. “We owe it to our children and their children to make sure that the experiences that they have with race relations, discrimination and injustice is vastly different from the experiences of our generation and ancestors before us.”

That can only happen by first listening to the community, he said.

In his presentation, Robinson highlighted the handful of public listening opportunities he’s hosted and participated in since protests broke out, and some common themes surface: Black Lives Matter; defunding the police department; police needing racial and social justice training; that emotional intelligence and character must be a core part of recruitment; that more accountability is needed to right wrongs within safety departments; and that community trust is broken and must be rebuilt.

Robinson said in all the conversations he’s had with people within the safety department, spanning sheriff deputies, police officers and firefighters, “everyone acknowledges it’s time” and wants “to be part of the change.”

Robinson said he will host a “demands” meeting in the coming weeks to discuss policy changes the community has been calling for. He is also creating a stakeholder group to “implement a strategic plan for criminal justice transformation,” which will outline benchmarks, timelines and the direction the department is heading.

Robinson said he is also launching a new division in his office, the Criminal Justice Transformation and Policy Arm, which will be responsible for drafting and implementing new policies. A formal announcement is forthcoming, he said.

Policing policies

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen provided council members with a high-level overview of the police department’s training requirements, use-of-force and crowd management policies, and efforts to dispatch fewer cops and more mental health experts through its co-responder and STAR programs, which are both funded through grants from the state and Caring for Denver, which is backed by taxpayer dollars.

Later this month, Pazen said DPD will be rolling out a new caseworker program to help curb recidivism among people experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges or substance abuse. Similarly to the other mental health programs, the “caseworker hub” program will not be funded through the police budget but instead by the state and Caring For Denver.

The police chief also assured council members that safety officials are in full support of the independent investigation. “We in no way, shape or form are justifying inappropriate actions by our officers, and we will fully hold our team accountable for those actions,” he pledged.

Pazen was booed by members of the public when he finished presenting.

Kashmann then provided 20 minutes for public comment, which was filled with calls to defund the police department. Several others called for the outright abolishment of the police, including Jesse Parris, a black man who regularly attends city council meetings.

“I’ve been at many of these protests. There was pepper spray shot at me. There was tear gas shot at me,” he said. “So, I know firsthand what this use of force is looking like, and you guys are violating everything that you said that you are going to do.

“It’s complete hypocrisy,” he said.

Pazen maintained in his presentation, and in an earlier interview with Colorado Politics, that police were ordered to break up crowds with tear gas and pepper balls only after provoked with items such as bricks and water bottles, as is law under Section 18, Article 9 of the Colorado Revised Statutes:

“Riot means a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs the performance of any governmental function.”

Denver police can fire chemical munitions, along with other less-lethal weapons, to gain compliance when violence or criminal behavior occurs, if there is ongoing destruction or there are attempts to prevent officers’ control.

Still, Robinson said the Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Independent Monitor are investigating 530 complaints of excessive force during protests. Some are more serious than others, he said, and any disagreements that arise between the two entities around disciplinary action will be left up to Robinson to decide.

Council fires back

When it came council members’ time to do the grilling — about an hour into the meeting — they didn’t hold back. Many of their questions and comments were made knowing they’d be unanswered due to time constraints, but will be followed up with after the meeting, safety officials said.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who represents District 11 and the Montbello neighborhood, fired off more than half a dozen questions, many of which revolved around the rank and experience of officers deployed during protests.

“Since I’ve been on this dais for five years, it’s next to impossible to fire a police officer,” she said. “We have seen, weekly, mayors and chiefs and directors of safety fire officers for egregious offenses, and I want to know why we are not doing that in Denver.”

Councilwoman At Large Robin Kniech took issue with the fact that mental health support is not funded by the safety department, which received $588 million this year, or nearly 40%, of the city’s $1.5 billion budget.  

“It’s not reassuring that we aren’t funding them from our own budget,” she said, before asking Pazen if he is open to gathering “serious” community input on the funding structure and reevaluating that structure if needed. Pazen agreed.

She also had Pazen agree to review the media’s aerial footage to better understand what happened on the ground.   

Council members Candi CdeBaca of District 9 and Chris Hinds of District 10 raised concerns about the integrity of the investigations within the office of the independent monitor and asked for assurance from Robinson, who gave it, that the investigation would be “truly” independent.

“I’m concerned about the lack of communication that happened with Council. There were a lot of things — most things — we found out about from Twitter,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5. “Quite frankly, that is unacceptable.”

Sawyer also asked to be handed the receipts from police response to protests.

“We are in a financial crisis, and we have in a lot of ways made it worse,” she said.

Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who represents District 1, said it was “really disturbing” to see what unfolded in the first several nights of protests in Denver.

“How do we build trust with our community, knowing what we’ve seen and knowing what you’ve seen?” she asked Robinson and Pazen. “There has to be something in the middle, and there has to be some type of process in grieving.”

‘No way to avoid this’

Kashmann said that this safety committee discussion is the first of more to come in the next few weeks and months.

On July 15, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is scheduled to meet with the safety committee to answer questions, in part, about the decision-making process to prosecute peace officers. Forthcoming public conversations with the citizen oversight board and the independent monitor are also in the works.

“There is no way for us to avoid this discussion,” Kashmann told community members in the council chambers. “The time is in front of us, OK. It’s going to be had.

“You’ll make your decision … down the road: Have we stood up and answered the call or not? OK? You’ll make that decision. I invite you to do so.”

How To Change Policing? New Service To Help People In Crisis

Alan Gionet • Denver CBS 4 • June 12, 2020

DENVER (CBS4)– It’s a plain van. Actually a re-purposed vehicle that had been destined for traffic enforcement. Yellow lights on top not blue. There’s no logo yet, but they’re working on it.

“It’s pretty unassuming,” says Carleigh Sailon, program manager for criminal justice services with Mental Health Center of Denver. “Most people have been pretty happy to have it show up and very willing to work with us on solutions.”

(credit: CBS)

The van has been on the streets of Denver since the beginning of June. It follows four years of a so-called, co-responding program in Denver which has put experts on social work, mental health and addiction into police cars with officers. Sailon calls the van, dubbed a “STAR” van for Support Team Assisted Response a “2.0 version.”

“We have sort of recognized responding with the police that oftentimes when we respond to a call the police really aren’t needed and the clinician is sort take over and handle that call completely.”

Mental Health agencies got together with paramedics from Denver Health, using money from the voter approved Caring 4 Denver ballot question voters approved in 2018.

Paramedic Dustin Yancy is one of four who have switched over to the STAR van.

“Maybe we can meet in the middle and have a better understanding of what each one is trying to achieve here.”

Experts know there’s a problem when police show up at an incident.

“If someone’s in crisis and they see a police officer show up you know kind of no matter what that officer is doing people automatically assume they’re in trouble or they may be at risk of going to jail,” says Sailon.

The very presence of a uniformed officer may be triggering.

“This is a non-judgmental approach, a client centered approach,” says Sailon. “We’re focusing on strengths not weaknesses, we’re really trying to meet people where they’re at.”

(credit: CBS)

It is patterned after a system in existence in the small city of Eugene, Oregon, in existence for 29 years. The system there has taken pressure off police, jails and emergency rooms.

“We don’t have necessarily have the right resources at the emergency department but that unfortunately our only avenue is to be able to transport patients to the emergency department,” says Justin Harper, assistant chief of paramedics for Denver Health. “A lot of the calls we run, you know we aren’t necessarily providing the right services by taking somebody and transporting them to the emergency department.”

He was hoping for enough STAR vans to cover every corner of the city if things go as they believe. Money could be saved without incarceration or emergency room treatment as long as there are enough alternative options available that starts with the STAR van notes Harper.

“So having this resource that’s sort of right in the middle where we can find definitive care and specifically get the services that people need.”

Often the STAR van will offer a ride to substance abuse or mental health treatment.

“This just feels so much more appropriate when there isn’t a risk element, when there isn’t a public safety element,” says Sailon. “I can just see that walking up with a paramedic, I’m received differently than when I’m with an officer because of that idea of ‘Oh my goodness am I in trouble?’”

(credit: CBS)

So far on their STAR van runs, they’ve been able to show up when police are already on scene and allow them to leave. They have yet to have to call police for backup. No one is armed in the STAR van.

“Working with the police for a number of years I mean I think there are a lot of things that have wound up on the law enforcement’s plate that really don’t belong there,” says Sailon. “Those are not public safety issues. They are not law enforcement issues. They are public health issues.”

A long-planned program to remove police from some 911 calls launched as Denver’s streets erupted in police brutality protests

Kevin Beaty – Denverite – June 8, 2020

Roshan Bliss has been trying to find ways to curb police violence for years and scored a major victory at the beginning of the month, just as Denver started protesting racism and police brutality.

Bliss, a volunteer and co-chair of the Denver Justice Project, helped shepherd a pilot project into existence that’s now diverting some 911 calls away from armed officers to an unassuming van manned by a Denver Health paramedic and a social worker from the Mental Health Center of Denver. It’s called Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, and the idea is to send more appropriate responses to 911 calls that have to do with substance abuse, mental health crises or people who just need help connecting to services. A grant from the Caring 4 Denver fund, which voters approved in 2019, has given STAR at least six months to prove it can be effective.

STAR is one way to “dismantle policing,” Bliss says, an idea that’s become talked about widely and loudly during protests reacting to the killing of George Floyd. The pilot program coincidentally began while massive actions against police brutality entered their fifth consecutive day in Denver.

Bliss and his colleagues began publicly talking about the program — or elements of it, at least — in 2017, including to a then-Denver police commander named Paul Pazen. When Pazen became chief in 2018, he was primed to help get the ball rolling. Last year, Bliss, some fellow activists and a delegation of local lawmakers took a trip to Eugene, Oregon, where a system like STAR has been in operation for more than 30 years. Bliss believes Denver is the first major city in the nation to copy Eugene’s model, removing police from situations that they themselves could make more dangerous.

The stakes are high, activists say.

If mental health workers had been sent to the motel where Michael Marshall, who had schizophrenia, was accused of trespassing, Bliss believes he could have avoided the Denver jail where he was later killed by sheriff’s deputies. Many of the names heard shouted at marches this week — Paul Castaway, Paul Childs, Marvin Booker — are people who died after contacts with police; Bliss thinks these cases very well could have been diverted to STAR, had it started sooner.

Most 911 calls, he said, stem from deeper issues like a lack of affordable housing or difficulty accessing food or mental health resources. He said American society has passed too many of our problems on to police departments, which are ill-equipped to deal with many non-violent emergencies.

“We can work towards different ways to address our social problems,” Bliss said. “You don’t need armed and badged gunmen.”

That structural racism contributes to crime has also been discussed during protest in recent weeks.

Roshan Bliss poses for a portrait, June 8, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Roshan Bliss poses for a portrait, June 8, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Carleigh Sailon, one of two Mental Health Center of Denver workers who’s been riding around in the van taking calls, said she’s excited to be a part of a creative way to change how the city deals with crises. Helping people, and finding better ways to do it, are what motivates her.

“I’m in this field because social justice is my passion. Bucking systems that have historically not worked is what I decided I wanted to do,” she said, especially “during this time when there’s just so clearly a movement going on, calling for a better response.”

STAR hit the ground running.

Sailon and her colleague, Chris Richardson, have been taking turns working the mental health side of STAR since it launched last Monday. Richardson said they’ve been very busy.

“The past three days have been just a blur,” Richardson said. “It’s actually gone incredibly well.”

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, STAR picks up 911 calls within the downtown “lollipop” area, which is basically a large circle around Civic Center, Capitol Hill and Downtown with a long stem stretching south down Broadway. Bliss said historical 911 call data informed the timing and location choices for this trial period. Richardson said they’ve since added the National Western Center to its service area, since the city set up a makeshift homeless shelter there as it sought to mitigate COVID-19.

Many of the cases Richardson and Sailon take involve people living in homelessness. Sailon said she helped some people in shelters dealing with suicidal thoughts and people on the street wrestling with substance abuse. Because they’re so deeply involved in the city’s social-work world, she and Richards can use their networks and knowledge of the system to connect people directly with case managers or other resources. They’ll even give people a ride to wherever they need to go.

They can navigate the city’s mental health landscape more quickly than police officers can, Richardson said, while also spending more time to make sure people get what they need.

“We have time on our side to see what’s really going on to make sure that person is connected,” he said. “It’s the idea of being able to provide the right resource at the right time.”

Richardson and Sailon have helped operate the Mental Health Center of Denver’s co-responder program, which embeds social workers with police officers to help cops navigate tricky situations. STAR goes one step further.

Chris Richardson and Carleigh Sailon with the Mental Health Center of Denver (left and right) and Spencer Lee, a Denver Health paramedic, stand in front of the Support Team Assisted Response's new van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Chris Richardson and Carleigh Sailon with the Mental Health Center of Denver (left and right) and Spencer Lee, a Denver Health paramedic, stand in front of the Support Team Assisted Response’s new van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The number of unhoused patients they’ve seen so far is partially influenced by the service area they’re working.

“Policing has always been about keeping down marginalized people, from its origins, and that has included Black folks and other folks not considered ‘white’ and poor people,” he said. “You cant have racial justice without economic justice.”

The fact that Pazen helped green light the project, Richardson says, shows DPD leadership is committed to morphing the department into a more modern organization.

“I think Denver is doing a lot of steps to change the culture, change their approach,” Richardson said. “They want to move to a 21st-century policing model.”

Bliss hopes STAR can grow, treating the symptoms of systemic problems while the city deals with some root causes.

He’d like to see 15 or 20 vans doing this kind of work across the whole city, each with a different service area that caters to a neighborhood’s specific needs. A van on the west side, for instance, might employ bilingual EMTs and mental health staff.

In the next six months, Richardson and Sailon will work to identify ways in which the program needs to be tweaked, while they, Bliss and other interested parties try to drum up data on how things are going.

Bliss said the next step would involve a request for proposals. He hopes a community organization steps up to own the project for the long haul, like has happened in Eugene, while taxpayer dollars help fund it.

An existing network of street medics and community service providers, like the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR), helped advocate for the pilot and are working to make sure it can grow.

In a prepared statement, DASHR’s Vinnie Cervantes said supporters “insist that a program like this must be community-owned and led.”

Many of these people are working on a volunteer basis to make it happen.

Bliss, for instance, has a day job helping run the nonprofit Project VOYCE. He works on STAR, he said, “doing what is right in my copious free time.”

As he thinks about minimizing damage to communities at the hands of police, he’s hoping for some big changes. Not all are new ideas.

“To abolish police we need serious affordable housing. We need food programs,” he said. “We need to address the causes of inequality, poverty and suffering and create ways communities can support themselves in dealing with hard things.”

ENVISION:YOU AND CARING FOR DENVER FOUNDATION ANNOUNCE TELEHEALTH PROGRAM FOR LGBTQ COMMUNITY

To address the COVID-19 crisis, Envision:You—a non-profit, behavioral health advocacy and support organization serving the needs of Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community—announced the launch of a telehealth program. The mental health services provided under this program will assist members of the queer community who are experiencing greater behavioral health needs as a result of the unfolding, public health emergency.

According to Steven Haden, co-founder of Envision:You, “The idea is to provide short-term, no-cost services to help individuals with mental health, emotional and substance use issues and interpersonal relationship concerns that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. The behavioral health needs of queer individuals are more complex and the outcomes more distressing under usual circumstances, but as a result of the rapidly unfolding nature of the crisis, underlying concerns are exacerbated, and new challenges will arise.” Haden added, “we are grateful for our collaboration with Caring for Denver Foundation and their strong commitment to supporting the mental health needs of LGBTQ+ people.”

Behavioral health clinicians from Colorado Health Network (coloradohealthnetwork.org)Khesed Wellness (khesedwellness.com), and Youth Seen (youthseen.orgwill provide the telehealth services as part of the Envision:You COVID-19 Behavioral Health Support Program. To connect with participating service providers, visit envision-you.org and click on the following symbol. 

According to Heather Lundy Nelson, LPC, NCC, founder and CEO of Khesed Wellness, “LGBTQ+ people are at particular risk for roadblocks to affordable, high-quality, mental health care. In fact, the idea for Khesed Wellness began when I couldn’t find a mental health therapist I could afford while navigating suicidal ideation during my coming out process. Especially now, as we navigate the unique challenges posed to our LGBTQ+ community, we need access to free and affordable services.” Heather added, “We are thrilled to work with Caring for Denver and Envision:You to provide free services to displaced LGBTQ+ adults and youth impacted by the coronavirus.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. An unintended consequence of distancing is the loss of the social connections that protect LGBTQIA youth from stress, anxiety and depression. We are proud to support organizations in our community working to address these needs,” said Lorez Meinhold, executive director of the Caring for Denver Foundation.

Dr. Tara Jae, from Youth Seen, said, “We are very familiar with the negative psychological and physical impacts that discrimination has in our LGBTQ folx of color. With the onset of this pandemic, we are keenly aware and preparing for the long term effects we will have in our community as a result of instability and lack of access to resources, specifically around mental and physical health. To have the opportunity to expand our mental health and peer support by providing no financial hurdles will be essential for our QTBIPoC and QTPoC communities.”

Darrell Vigil, chief executive officer of the Colorado Health Network, talked about enhancing the mental health services provided by the organization. “It has become increasingly clear to us that in order to improve the wellbeing of our clients, we have to address more than just their physical health. As we have expanded our behavioral health services across Colorado we are committed to meeting our LGBTQ+ clients where they are especially during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Program Criteria:

  • You live in Colorado.
  • You identify as Queer or part of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • You have been impacted by COVID-19.
  • You do not have insurance to cover the cost of services.

About Caring for Denver

Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action. To learn more, visit caring4denver.org

About Envision:You

The Envision:You mission is to support, educate, and empower Colorado’s LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) community living with a mental health or substance use disorder. To learn more, visit envision-you.org.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis, please contact Colorado Crisis Services by calling 844-493-8255, or text TALK to 38255.

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Alternatives to Jail $7M Funding Opportunity

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Alternatives to Jail $7M Funding Opportunity

April 7, 2020

Media Contact – Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483

Denver, CO
– Caring for Denver Foundation announced today it is inviting proposals for a new $7 million dollar funding opportunity for programs, projects and/or activities that address Alternatives to Jail, a priority area, for Caring for Denver Foundation.

The vision of the Caring for Denver’s investments in this priority area is to have greater supports upfront and more opportunities to provide treatment and interventions before, during and after criminal justice involvement in Denver so that people are supported and connected throughout their recovery.

“Denver residents continue to face unparalleled setbacks and risks to their mental well-being, especially now amid the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director of Caring for Denver Foundation. “We’re incredibly eager to begin partnering with the community on solutions that move us to a public health, trauma, mental health and substance misuse crisis response, with care and services provided first, and jail as a last resort.”

“When we don’t adequately fund mental health and substance misuse, we pay for it in the criminal justice system, the child welfare system, in the ER and schools. We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this,“ said State Rep. Leslie Herod, Board Chair. “This is no longer about them anymore, it’s about us, and I’m proud to continue working with Caring for Denver on the bold ways we can provide services to those in need without leaning on the criminal justice system.”

With robust input from over 1,600 community residents, Alternatives to Jail, was identified an immediate area of need. The full strategic funding priorities report including other areas of focus can be found here.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis

– Fund community-identified priorities

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Funding in Support of COVID-19 Community and Frontline Responders

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Funding in Support of COVID-19 Community and Frontline Responders

Media Contact – Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation announced today funding designed to help organizations and frontline responders during the COVID-19 crisis.

Caring for Denver Foundation was created to quickly respond to emerging mental health needs and substance misuse issues in our communities. We are designed to react to the rapidly changing needs of our communities and to support them as they address the growing impacts of this current pandemic.

Though our physical offices are closed, we are working diligently to provide fast, general operating funding to support our communities by:

  1. Ensuring our funding reaches those most likely to be able to respond to mental health and substance misuse crises during this time.
  2. Reinforcing the frontline resources of community-driven mental health and those working to address substance misuse so they may continue meeting the needs of the populations they serve.
  3. Supporting providers and organizations overwhelmed working on mental health and substance misuse during this time so they remain able to continue to support the ongoing needs of the community as this rapidly changing situation progresses.

To this end, Caring for Denver has designated a Colorado COVID-19 Support Fund including grants and staff support in three specific areas:

  • An emergency childcare program for children of those providers in Denver supporting critically at-risk populations. Caring for Denver is dedicating resources toward efforts to help ensure those have the social supports they need to continue providing vital services to meet the demand for care and limit any barriers to care.
  • Funding to support self-care including crisis intervention for support and access to behavioral health for those on the frontlines caring for the critically ill and homeless populations.
  • Flexible and responsive funds to those providers working on mental health and substance misuse issues so they can continue to serve at-risk populations.

In partnership with other foundations, agencies, and community organizations, Caring for Denver will continue to monitor needs and align resources for both the short-term and long-term.

“These are difficult times for us all, especially those on the frontlines, as we combat the spread of coronavirus across our city and state. As we navigate these uncharted waters, I am proud to work with Caring for Denver to bolster social supports for our healthcare workers and the mental health programs available to them,” Leslie Herod, Caring for Denver Foundation Board Chair.

“We want to ensure that providers are equipped to meet the rapidly changing needs of the communities they’re serving during this crisis. And as we’ve continually done, we’ll listen to the community and adjust our actions to address needs as this situation changes, ” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director.

“I applaud Caring for Denver for taking these steps to support the hard-working residents of our city when they need it the most,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “I’ve said from the beginning, we are going to get through this together, by taking care of each other and ensuring the most vulnerable among us are always a priority.”

Mental health and substance use organizations are critical Denver safety-net providers in communities serving at-risk populations. This funding will seek to ensure the following organizations have the operational resources necessary to meet the community’s ongoing needs:

  • Servicios de la Raza
  • The Harm Reduction Center
  • The Center for Trauma & Resiliency
  • Life-Line Colorado
  • Element of Discovery – Therapists of Color
  • Tribe Recovery Homes
  • Sobriety House
  • The Center
  • The Empowerment Program
  • The Rose Andom Center
  • Friends of the Haven
  • CHARG Resource Center

Self-care dollars for staff supporting critically at-risk homeless populations:

  • The Gathering Place
  • Urban Peak
  • Denver Rescue Mission
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
  • Volunteers of America
  • The Salvation Army
  • The Delores Project
  • Catholic Charities
  • St. Francis Center

To find out information about future funding opportunities, please visit caring4denver.org or follow facebook.com/caring4denver.

About Caring for Denver Foundation

Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction.

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis.

– Fund community-identified priorities.

These actions outlined above fit squarely in the areas of early prevention of mental health and substance misuse challenges and will help ensure Denver residents have access to the appropriate care at the right time and support to navigate that care.

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Board Chair Rep. Leslie Herod

Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

About Executive Director Lorez Meinhold

Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

 

Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million

 

Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million

 

5280 • Maya Chiodo • 2/04/2020

In 2018, voters approved a $0.25 sales tax by passing the Caring for Denver ballot initiative. Now, a newly formed foundation is starting to dole out grants to programs that help Denverites experiencing mental health and substance misuse challenges get treatment.

As most voters are aware, it can feel like ages between the moment a ballot initiative is passed on Election Day and its implementation. In the case of Caring for Denver (the ballot initiative aimed at helping Denverites experiencing mental health struggles and substance misuse issues) it’s been 15 months of waiting. But for good reason.

The initiative created a foundation, which recently rolled out a list of three grant recipients set to receive about $2 million. This is part of what is estimated to be an annual total of approximately $35 million in revenue from the $0.25 sales tax this year. But before deciding on the programs to help fund, the foundation had to do its due diligence. First, it applied and received approval as a 501c3 nonprofit, then formed their board of directors, and hired staff—all in less than three months time. Next, led by executive director Lorez Meinhold, the foundation spoke with more than 1,500 community members, worked with more than 60 organizations, and conducted a poll to determine what, exactly, Denver really wanted. 

This first set of grant recipients mainly addresses alternatives to jail, co-responders programs, and training for first responders, since these were the areas outlined in the original initiative. If the programs are effective, the hope is that they may be adopted by other cities in Colorado and throughout the country. “We’re hoping that we serve as a model,” says Colorado Rep. Leslie Herod, who championed the ballot initiative and now serves as the foundation’s board chair. Here’s a look at where the money’s going. 

1. Expansion of the Co-Responder Program | $1,762,405

This program will expand a partnership between the Denver Police Department (DPD) and Mental Health Center of Denver by adding 10 mental health clinicians—who will ride along with law enforcement professionals to respond to calls where there is a known or expected mental or substance misuse need involved—and 11 case managers. Police districts with higher volumes of calls will receive those additional clinicians. (Districts 3 and 4, which together cover Denver’s southern half, will each receive two additional clinicians.)

The role of case managers, in contrast to the mitigation efforts of clinicians, involves comprehensive follow-ups with individuals. In 2018, after incidents with law enforcement, 71 people were connected to housing through the program. Now, with a greater number of people and resources, that number could grow.

2. Support Team Assisted Response | $208,141

The DPD will adopt Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), a community response program modeled after the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) in Eugene, Oregon.  After visiting Eugene to observe CAHOOTS, Herod was inspired to adopt and adapt the plan to fit Denver’s needs. 

To see how well the teams worked with law enforcement and how well respected they are in the community was really, really inspiring,” Herod says. Since Eugene and Denver have many differences (Eugene has a population of 170,000, is more rural, and less diverse than Denver), STAR will be a pilot program so that officials can determine what works. With DPD on board to try the program out, Herod believes the city has shown its true commitment to addressing the issues of mental health and substance misuse in a more “humane” way.

The program will pair EMTs and paramedics with health clinicians or peer navigators to respond to 911 dispatches involving a mental health or substance misuse issue. 

3. Verbal De-Escalation Training for First Responders | $24,246

Denver Health Paramedics and the Denver Fire Department will be equipped with tools that can help curtail the escalation of potentially threatening situations involving substance misuse or mental health distress. The training program, which is a pilot, will use Denver law enforcement’s existing Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) as a starting point.

As for what’s next on the docket, Caring for Denver is gearing up to review new grant proposals from city agencies, schools, nonprofits, and other stakeholder groups. After March, when the exact 2019 tax revenue is released (it’s expected to be close to $36.1 million), the foundation will review submitted proposals. Since the foundation is still brand new, they plan to review proposals and award grants one at a time. “We want to make sure we’re doing it right before we open up the next [grant area],” says Meinhold. 

Regardless of how many programs the foundation is able to fund this year, every penny of funding will be doled out. “We want the money in community,” Meinhold says. In particular, Herod hopes to see underserved populations and “unlikely contenders,” like groups who have never been funded by a large foundation before, vie for grant money. 

Seeing tangible results may take some time, but Caring for Denver is optimistic. “I want to be clear that what we’re asking for here is a culture shift,” Herod says. “It’s not easy, but I’m so glad that these folks are on board.”

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Priority Funding Areas

   

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Priority Funding Areas

Media contact: Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483 • taylor@caring4denver.org

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation recently released its initial strategic funding report outlining key funding areas to help address the mental health and substance misuse challenges facing the City and County of Denver.

Under leadership from Executive Director, Lorez Meinhold, Caring for Denver operates as an independent nonprofit foundation to oversee and distribute nearly $35M per year in funding to help catalyze bold and meaningful impact in our communities. Architected by State Representative Leslie Herod and funded by voters in 2018, Caring for Denver will harness the strength of the voter initiative in 2018 to partner with those on the front lines to forge a new path for tackling the right challenges with the most effective solutions by not only listening, but learning from the community from which it was created.

In the span of six weeks, Caring for Denver engaged in a robust community engagement effort that gathered input from more than 1,600 people with lived experience, first responders, creatives, youth, and so many others across 120 organizations and through small community events, four forums, three virtual events in English and Spanish, and by phone. This feedback informed the most immediate needs in the following areas:

  • Youth – Better address and support mental health and substance misuse, and create more connections for our youth.
  • Community-Centered Solutions – Use community knowledge, strengths, and resources to foster local connectedness and support.
  • Care Provision – More people in Denver have access to the mental health and substance misuse care at the right time, and the supports to navigate care.
  • Alternatives to Jail – Greater supports, connections, practices, and opportunities to redirect people experiencing mental health and substance misuse crisis away from and out of the criminal justice system.

“This report represents thoughtful input from so many throughout the city and will be the cornerstone of our work for the next several years. It is as much a reflection of community as it is of us. We will take a bold approach to grant-making that will have a lasting impact in our community. We are eager to begin to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, and turning the community’s desire to help into action,” said Executive Director, Lorez Meinhold.

“The work of Caring for Denver Foundation will be transformational for tens of thousands of residents, their families, friends and youth who struggle every single day with untreated and undertreated mental health and substance misuse challenges. I am proud to have championed the issue and continue the work,“ said Board Chair, Representative Leslie Herod.

The report is available at caring4denver.org/about and open for community feedback for the next month by emailing info@caring4denver.org. Check the website or facebook.com/caring4denver as more information is available on future calls for proposals and funding opportunities.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis

– Fund community-identified priorities

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now

Caring Denver Foundation Aims to Include Input from Queer Community, Seth Holder, OutFront Magazine, 11/12/19

On November 7 at the Center for Visual Art, Caring for Denver Foundation held its public launch event. The well-attended event included leaders such as Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod and Carl Clark, M.D. from the Mental Health Center of Denver. Both of them, along with other community leaders, advocates, and persons with lived experience pushed to bring increased funding for mental health and substance misuse needs into reality.

Every day, thousands of our neighbors struggle with mental health and substance misuse, often without the support and resources they need. This is especially true of the LGBTQ community considering, 

  • In LGBTQ people ages 10-24, suicide is the second-leading cause of death (Centers for Disease Control, 2013).
  • People in the LGBTQ+ community experience mental health issues at higher rates. A recent study found 61 percent have depression, 45 percent have PTSD, and 36 percent have an anxiety disorder (Rainbow Health, January 2018). Overall, one in three LGBTQ adults experienced mental illness during the past year (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2015).
  • An estimated 25 percent of the LGBTQ community abuses substances, compared to about 9 percent the general population (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
  • In a national study, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. Also, 92 percent of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. (The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality).
  • LGBTQ  older adults face several unique challenges, including the combination of anti-LGBTQ+ stigma and ageism. Approximately 31 percent of LGBTQ older adults report depressive symptoms; 39 percent report serious thoughts of taking their own lives (American Psychiatric Association, 2017)

During this month and into early December, Caring for Denver Foundation will hold several community-wide events to better understand the specific concerns individuals and families are confronting. As part of this effort, Caring for Denver will be hosting events focused on the unique needs of  LGBTQ+ individuals in partnership with Envision:YouOne Coloradoand The Center on Colfax.

The events will be held:

November 25, University of Denver, Sturm Hall 379, from 5:30 p.m.  – 7:30 p.m.

December 4, The Center on Colfax, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. and again 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Space is limited for each of the events. 

According to Envision:You co-founder Steven Haden, “It’s wonderful Caring for Denver Foundation is dedicated to ensuring voices from marginalized communities are heard. We are grateful to the team at the Foundation for their work to address the unique needs of the queer community who face disparities in accessing and receiving care as well as experiencing poor outcomes.”

Denver hosts first information session regarding mental health funding tax, Seth Juneac, Fox Denver 31

Denver nonprofit organization hosted an information session Saturday to gauge the public on mental health and substance misuse issues in the community.

Caring4Denver is tasked with identifying how to prioritize the funds coming from the mental health funding tax approved by Denver voters in November 2018. The measure would put $0.25 from every $100 spent into a community fund. Saturday’s meeting is to help determine how the estimated $45 million should be spent.

“As we form our strategic priorities, it’s important for us to community input,” said Caring4Denver executive director Lorez Meinhold. “Really hoping to hear from people, both the top issues they see going on in the city and county of Denver that they’re experiencing, the challenges they might face, and to talk about where to start with this funding, where should we start to prioritize funding and having them help inform where we go with those resources.”

Go to caring4denver.org/events for dates, times, locations, and to register today.

Denver voters asked to raise taxes to increase mental health, substance abuse funding, 7 News, 10/14/18
In Denver, one of those issues is being called Caring 4 Denver, which would raise $45 million every year to fund mental health and addiction services for children and adults by adding a 25-cent tax on every $100 in purchases.

On this weekend’s Politics Unplugged, State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, talks to Anne Trujillo about why she supports the initiative and why she thinks it eventually will be adopted by other cities and counties across the state.

Will Denver Vote to Fund More Mental Health and Addiction Services?, Daliah Singer, 5280, 10/18/18

House Representative Leslie Herod is asking for the public’s help to address the Mile High City’s dearth of mental health and addiction services. “I see how much the community is hurting. I see our alarming rates of suicide…There are three to four overdoses on the streets of Denver every day,” she says. “We need more help, and we don’t have it right now.”

Currently, the Mile High City doesn’t have the money or the capacity to meet the community’s needs. According to Dr. Carl Clark, president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD), one in five people are dealing with a mental health or addiction issue on a daily basis, and one in four will face one over the course of the year. But, he adds, “only two out of five people are actually getting the help they need.” In part, that’s because they don’t know where to go or how to find a provider, or there aren’t any services nearby that they can access.

Caring 4 Denver: What You Will Be Voting for in November, Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, 9/27/18
In November, Denver voters will weigh whether to pass Herod’s Caring 4 Denver ballot initiative, which would increase the sales tax by .25 percent, or about $45 million annually, to bolsters the city’s existing mental-health and substance-abuse treatment options and fund suicide prevention programs and those targeting the opioid epidemic.

The initiative is also designed to “reduce homelessness, improve long-term recovery, and reduce the use of jails and emergency rooms.” “The largest mental health facilities are jails and prisons,” Herod says. “I think this is the most important issue facing Denver today.”

Initiated Ordinance 301 — Caring 4 Denver — aims to relieve a mental health system under duress, Kevin Beaty, Denverite, 10/15/18
Initiated Ordinance 301, which appears on Denver’s ballot this year, is one group’s answer. The people behind the initiative marketed as Caring 4 Denver hope it will start moving the city toward improved care for both emergency workers and the people they serve, though even some supporters are skeptical that more money will result in better circumstances.

The measure aims to raise $45 million by adding a quarter-of-a-percent tax on sales – 25 cents on a $100 purchase – that would be pooled for use in mental health services. In the first two years, 20 percent of that money would go into a fund for a new mental health center, then 10 percent of that fund would be earmarked for the facility in following years. Up to five percent could be used for program administration, and the rest could be doled out as grants to any organization needing more mental health support.

"Help Denver win its war against the opioid epidemic" -Dr. Rob Valuck & Rep. Leslie Herod, Colorado Politics, 8/31/18
Caring 4 Denver will create a culture of change in our community. We can create a conversation where opioid addiction is destigmatized and help is available for those who need and want it. We have the power to make Denver one of the success stories. We have the power to fight the stigma. We have the power to act. And we have the power to vote to support treatment for opioid addiction and substance abuse.

Caring 4 Denver won’t solve the problem overnight but it will be the single greatest thing Denver has ever done to address the overdose crisis.

Denver can and should help those with mental health needs, Leslie Herod & Carl Clark, 10/13/18
Caring 4 Denver will appear at the end of ballots in Denver as Initiated Ordinance 301 and will be a one-quarter-of 1 percent sales and use tax increase (25 cents on a $100-dollar purchase), and raise $45 million per year, to be used for improving the quality, availability, and affordability of community based mental health and addiction care in Denver.

Services that could be supported include counseling, in-patient treatment, school services and prevention programs. The funds will be managed by an independent board of stakeholders in mental health and addiction services.

"Tax hike for Denver mental health and drug services makes the ballot" -Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, 8/22/18

A request for a 0.25 percent sales tax for mental health services and addiction treatment qualified for the November ballot in Denver Tuesday.

The measure is expected to raise $45 million to improve “the quality, availability and affordability of community-based mental health and addiction care,” said Caring 4 Denver, the group backing the proposal.

"Denver Voters To Decide On A Tax That Will Fund Mental Health, Substance Abuse Care" -John Daley, CPR, 8/23/18
A Denver ballot initiative could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to help people  with mental health and substance disorder issues.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, is spearheading the “Caring 4 Denver” campaign. She said the proposal makes financial sense in that, if it’s passed by voters, it could fund a variety of mental health programs.

The money would come from a one-quarter of 1 percent city sales tax — that’s 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

Caring 4 Denver on Colorado Inside Out, Colorado Public Television, 8/10/18
“This looks like the big winner on the Denver ballot.” -Patricia Calhoun

Patricia Calhoun, Justine Sandoval, Ross Kaminsky, Dave Kopel and host Dominic Dezzutti discuss Caring4Denver on Colorado Public Television – PBS – CPT12’s show “Colorado Inside Out” last Friday.

"Denver Will Vote on Proposed Sales-Tax Increase to Support Mental Health" -Chris Walker, Westword, 8/10/18
The initiative’s sponsors say that the money would address numerous public health and criminal justice crises facing the Denver area, such as extremely high suicide ratesincreasing opioid overdoses, and elevated recidivism rates (cycling in and out) at the city’s jail among those struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorders — which is costly to manage.

Denver is seeing an average of three opioid overdoses a day, and a study released on Wednesday by the University of Colorado Boulder found that one in twenty teens showing serious conduct or substance abuse problems dies by suicide in Colorado before the age of thirty.

"Supporters of a Denver tax proposal raising money for mental health and addiction services drop off signatures" -Esteban L. Hernandez, Denverite, 8/1/18
“People from all walks of life have come together to support mental health and addiction treatment for our friends, family members and neighbors,” Herod said. “We have countless stories of people walking past one of our volunteers until they hear the words ‘mental health & addiction’ and they stop in their tracks and turn around to find out more. We have been thanked over and over for the work we are doing. It is truly inspiring.”
"Community Seeks Tax Hike In Denver For Mental Health And Opioid Crisis" -Alan Gionet, CBS 4 News, 6/14/18
News coverage of the Caring 4 Denver campaign launch.
"‘Feedback: Caring for Denver’ is a vote for mental health" -Brandon Turner, Colorado Politics, 7/12/18
Too many preventative services are simply not available in Denver to people who can’t afford them. Access to this care can help prevent health crises and emergency room visits because people will have support in combating their illnesses, making it less likely they find themselves in an emergency situation.

For too long, Denver has ignored its mental health and substance abuse crisis. Now is the time to start ensuring every Denver resident has the help they need to get healthy. I urge Denver voters to support the Caring for Denver initiative and help our neighbors begin their path to stability.

"Caring for Denver Campaign Kickoff" -Molly Hendrickson, Denver Channel 7, 6/14/18

Representative Leslie Herod discusses the Caring 4 Denver initiative and how it will help people in Denver.

"How a Quarter Can Keep Struggling Non-Criminals in Denver Out of Jail" -Michael Roberts, Westword, 6/14/18
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is also a Caring 4 Denver booster. Herod says the DA understands that “what we’re doing right now doesn’t work and it’s costly; it diverts the attention of law enforcement from other safety needs the community has. But law enforcement’s hands are tied. They have to take action when they see something happening on the street — but if they could move people in crisis to a facility, get them to detox, get them the services they need, they would. Caring 4 Denver will help do that — and it also allows for co-responders, more mental health and substance abuse professionals who can ride along with Denver police when it’s appropriate.”
"Denver Ballot Initiative Aims To Finance Mental Health, Substance Abuse Programs" -John Daley, CPR, 4/5/18
A ballot initiative in Denver could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to help those with mental health and substance disorder issues.

State lawmaker Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, is spearheading the “Caring 4 Denver” campaign.  She says the proposal makes financial sense because if it’s passed by voters it could fund a variety of mental health programs. The proposal calls for a one-quarter of 1 percent sales tax — that’s 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

"Opinion: Lawmakers should continue to improve mental health care spending in Colorado" -Elizabeth Lochhead, DU Clarion, 4/30/18
Therefore, more funding for mental health and substance abuse services is itself a possible way to spend more efficiently. Yes, this will likely require an increase in sales tax, but taxpayers are already spending for high numbers of emergency room visits. Beyond this, more support for those dealing with mental illness and addiction is important for the well-being of any community. Mental illness affects people of all incomes and circumstances, but it is also of the major causes of homelessness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, and there are over 5,000 homeless people in Denver (this comes from 2017’s Point-in-Time survey, which acknowledges it is a low estimate due to undercounting).
"Denver voters could decide on sales tax for mental health, addiction" -Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, 4/5/18
“I think the most tragic part of it all is that people who know they need help can’t get it,” said Herod, who has worked extensively on the issue in the statehouse. Robert Clark, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, said 1 in 5 people in the city are dealing with a mental health or substance-abuse issue.

“Everybody knows somebody who’s dealing with this problem,” Clark said. “What we want is for the door to be wide-open for anybody to get the help they need.

"Caring4Denver Campaign Aims To Fund Mental Health Programs" -Mark Ackerman, CBS 4 News, 4/5/18
State lawmaker Leslie Herod, a Democrat representing Denver, is appealing directly to City of Denver voters to help people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Standing on the west steps of the state Capitol on Thursday, members of the group Caring4Denver said “we can’t rely on Washington” or Colorado lawmakers to fix this problem.

"Proposed Sales Tax Would Fund Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment" -Ana Campbell, Westword, 4/5/18
Resources to treat mental-health issues and substance abuse are woefully limited in Colorado.

One in every ten residents lives in a place with little or no access to medication-assisted substance-abuse treatment, while across the state, communities both rural and urban struggle with an ever-expanding opioid epidemic. Treatment for mental-health issues is so scarce, more patients in Colorado must go out of network to find doctors than do patients in most other states. And last year, Arapahoe House, the state’s largest drug-and-alcohol treatment center, closed after more than forty years.

"Denver sales tax hike would raise millions for mental health care, substance abuse treatment" -Jesse Paul, Denver Post, 4/5/18

Backers of the effort, including Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, the Mental Health Center of Denver and Mental Health Colorado, say it’s a necessary step to create a sustainable way to help struggling people in Denver and identify ways to promote well-being. The group says polling has shown that Denverites would overwhelmingly support such a sales tax increase.

"Group Petitions For Sales Tax Increase To Solve City Problems" -CBS 4 Denver, 4/4/18
Mental health, substance abuse and affordable housing groups have said for years that resources in Denver are limited. A group called Caring for Denver wants that to change. They are proposing raising the sales tax to pay for such services. The tax increase would amount to approximately 25 cents on a $100 purchase and could mean $45 million every year for those programs.
"Denver tax proposal would raise $45 million per year for mental health, housing, addiction" -Andrew Kenney, Denverite, 4/5/18
The Mental Health Center of Denver is partnering with state Rep. Leslie Herod to campaign for a half-billion dollars of new spending on mental health, addiction services and housing over the next decade.

They want local voters to decide whether to raise city sales taxes by 25 cents per $100 of spending on restaurant meals, consumer goods and more. The hike is expected to generate about $45 million in its first year.

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'If the Police Aren’t Needed, Let’s Leave Them Out Completely’

Stateline Jun23
Protesters in Denver call for the defunding of police in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. Cities across the country have begun shifting resources from police to programs that respond to 911 calls for homelessness, drug addiction and mental health crises.
David Zalubowski/The Associated Press

Every weekday morning, mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon turns on her police radio in downtown Denver and finds out who she can help next. She, along with a paramedic, jump in a repurposed city van, stripped of its blue lights and official insignia, and respond to 911 calls for people experiencing mental health crises, homelessness or drug addiction.

Beginning this month, Denver’s emergency dispatch is sending social workers and health professionals, rather than police officers, to handle nonviolent situations. “If the police aren’t needed, let’s leave them out completely,” said Sailon, program manager for criminal justice services at the Mental Health Center for Denver.

Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response, known as STAR, launched at the beginning of June as a six-month pilot program, funded by a grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation. The fact that STAR began at the height of demonstrations against police brutality was coincidental, Sailon said, but fitting.

Well before protesters recently flooded the streets of America, demanding justice for the death of George Floyd and calling to defund or abolish police departments, several cities across the country had begun shifting resources and responsibilities away from law enforcement to professionals trained to handle emergency calls for nonviolent, crisis situations.

Stateline Jun23
Emergency medical technician Chase Lindquist, left, and mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon respond to nonviolent 911 calls in Denver in an effort to shift first-responder duties away from police. Cities across the country are establishing similar programs.
Courtesy of Mental Health Center of Denver

In San Francisco, for example, fewer than 5% of police calls are to respond to violent crimes, Police Commissioner John Hamasaki told Stateline in an email. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced earlier this month that, along with other changes, the police would no longer respond to noncriminal situations, instead diverting 911 calls to agencies outside law enforcement.

For decades, cities have asked police to manage social problems such as mass homelessness, failed schools and mental illness, said Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College. But it has not worked. The resources that have swelled police departments across the country should be redirected to community-based programs, he said.

“People cycle through emergency rooms, jail lockups and homeless shelters,” he said, “and those problems get turned over to the police to manage.”

Mental health responses can be handled without police if funded and structured well with properly trained and adequately paid professionals, said Amy Watson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies the criminal justice and mental health systems.

But that can be challenging, she said. One of the biggest issues facing community mental health programs is turnover — the pay is low, and people don’t stay.

This takes an investment, she said, which is at the heart of the “defund the police” argument. “We really need to be thoughtful about how we approach this,” she said. “But if we do resource mental health services appropriately, there will be less demand on police to provide mental health crisis response.

“It will not be eliminated, but it could be significantly reduced.” 

Some police advocates, such as Dennis Slocumb, international political director and vice president emeritus of the International Union of Police Associations, welcome programs that shift nonviolent crisis calls from police to social workers. But, he said, that shouldn’t come at the expense of police funding, which could reduce their equipment and training.

Police Can’t Do Everything

Shortly after a gunman killed five Dallas police officers in July 2016, a frustrated then-Chief of Police David Brown told reporters, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. … Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it.”

For several years, public health professionals, law enforcement officials and activists have been debating new approaches to policing.

In many instances, people experiencing personal crises have been killed by police responding to 911 calls from worried friends or family members. People with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police encounter than others, according to a 2015 study by the Arlington, Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

In response, police departments across the country have adopted, among other measures, crisis intervention training, which teaches officers how to safely de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation, sometimes involving people experiencing a personal crisis. Proponents of the program say it can reduce violent interactions between police and the public.

This training, while valuable, is insufficient compared with the training mental health professionals receive, said Slocumb, of the International Union of Police Associations.

“Our training barely scratches the surface,” Slocumb said. “Every time there is something that’s causing a problem in society and people don’t know who else to call in the middle of the night, we go.

“If you call us to deal with homelessness, I would ask: What tools do we have to deal with that?”

But what if society stops asking police to respond to those situations in the first place, public health advocates ask.

Police officers are not mental health experts and in complex crisis situations, a trained clinician can be invaluable, said Sailon, in Denver. Last week, for example, she responded to an emergency call from an exasperated, wheelchair-bound man in downtown Denver.

The man told Sailon he needed to connect with the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she had contacts from her years in this field. “Oh my God,” her contact there said, “I’ve been looking for him for three months.” Sailon brought him to the hospital shortly after.

“If officers showed up on the scene, I don’t really know there’s a law enforcement solution for that,” Sailon said. “This is case management stuff. This is social work stuff.”

Still in its early stages, Denver’s STAR has staff to handle around 12 calls a day in the downtown area. The program hopes to expand with more funding, staff, vans and geographic reach after the pilot ends. Ideally, Sailon said, it would operate at all hours and days of the week.

Similar efforts are expanding across the country.

In Albuquerque, Democratic Mayor Tim Keller announced last week he plans to spend the next two months creating a third department of first responders, alongside the police and fire departments, in the New Mexico city to handle calls involving homelessness, addiction and mental health.

“It’s just not working,” he said in an interview. “Fundamentally, this is about looking at a third way of responding to public safety issues in a community.”

The Albuquerque Police Department has, since 2014, been under a federal consent decree for excessive force and inadequate oversight, and has been changing its policing policies to better serve the city of 560,000 residents. A federal judge would have to approve the new agency later this year.

In Austin, city officials recently added funding for mental health professionals to work at the Texas capital’s 911 call center and immediately respond to a person experiencing a crisis.

The Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, known as EMCOT, which has operated since 2013, found that instead of waiting for police to reach out to the team in behavioral health situations, it was more efficient for members to handle crisis calls directly.

Almost all EMCOT’s calls avoid arrest, said Laura Wilson-Slocum, the practice administrator of Crisis Services and Justice Initiatives at Integral Care, the community mental health center for Travis County, Texas. Outreach personnel can assess crises, follow up and connect residents to health care providers or other social services.

“We want to ensure they have the treatment and support they need to last them through the direction of the crisis episode,” Slocum said. “It’s always our goal to strengthen community response to people experiencing mental health crises.”

Integral Care is in talks with the Austin City Council to expand the program with additional funding.

The Austin and Denver police departments did not respond to interview requests.

The Eugene Model

For the past 31 years, Eugene, Oregon, has offered alternative, public-health responses to emergency calls.

Run out of the nonprofit White Bird Clinic, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, known as CAHOOTS, team responds to 911 or non-emergency police calls that may not require law enforcement in the Eugene-Springfield area. Instead of sending police officers, dispatchers send a crisis worker and a medic.

Last year, the team received 24,000 calls. They asked for police backup in 150 cases.

The program is saving local hospitals $4 million every year by providing non-emergency medical care and first aid, said Tim Black, the operations coordinator at CAHOOTS. At the same time, it provides a free service to people in need who would otherwise call a costly ambulance.

Many people in crisis do not need a police officer, he said, but someone to listen or help connect them to services.

“There’s this really tremendous moment that we’re in to talk about something very different for communities’ response to people in need,” Black said. “There are so many different situations where we encounter somebody who is in a profound crisis and it’s all really about unmet needs and lack of resources.”

Black and other members of his team have spoken with people in cities such as Austin, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, about establishing similar programs.

The team also inspired Denver’s STAR program. In 2017, a group of local police reform activists and lawmakers traveled to Eugene to see the program in action. Roshan Bliss, co-founder of the Denver Justice Project, a group dedicated to transforming law enforcement, helped organize the trip. He hopes more cities will act.

“I’m a Black man who’s tired of seeing police hurt people in my community,” he said, “especially when police shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

The movement to abolish or defund the police is not new. It has been a critical element of the protests that grew out of Michael Brown’s death in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. But the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed were an inflection point in this country, making the argument to fundamentally restructure policing more politically tenable, Bliss said, building on decades of activism.

As many other civil rights activists have argued, Bliss said police agencies in this country are rooted in deep-seated racism, established early in this country’s history to track down escaped enslaved persons and bolstered over time to maintain white supremacy.

Police would be needed less, Bliss said, if local, state and federal governments more adequately funded housing, health care and job needs — roots of violence and many emergency calls.

The argument is taking hold. In Minneapolis, where a police officer killed Floyd, the City Council voted earlier this month to disband the Police Department and build a new system focused on public safety. Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey opposed the move, but the Council has a veto-proof majority.

Police abolitionist organizers such as Jae Hyun Shim, a core member of MPD150, which authored a 2018 report exploring alternative public safety measures to the Minneapolis Police Department, are cautiously optimistic.

“I have a lot of confidence in everybody in our city right now that we don’t slip back in a pattern that could potentially create a situation like this again,” Shim said. “We must move away from this system that is harmful and takes actual money away from things that I think will heal us.”

The STAR Van Offers an Alternative to Police
Caring for Denver’s STAR van sends a paramedic and clinician to non-criminal 911 calls. The goal is to avoid unnecessary officer involvement—and to find gaps in Denver’s support systems.

 •  

Caring for Denver Foundation’s newest initiative couldn’t have debuted at a more complicated—and perhaps auspicious—time.

The six-month pilot program, dubbed Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), utilizes a single service van staffed by a mental health clinician and a paramedic. If a 911 operator receives a call about a non-criminal situation—such as reports of mental health emergencies, drug overdoses, or requests for a welfare check—they dispatch the boxy white ride (unless it’s on another call) to the scene instead of police officers.

The STAR van is the newest enterprise from Caring for Denver, a nonprofit founded in 2018 when voters passed the Caring for Denver ballot initiative and funded its mission of addressing mental health and substance misuse issues. More than $200,000 of that money will fund the van’s full-time clinician and two paramedics who will rotate shifts. The community groups collaborating on STAR include Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver Justice Project, Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, and Denver Homeless Out Loud—all of which will evaluate the pilot in hopes of improving and expanding the model throughout the city.

During the trial phase, STAR will serve the central downtown area, the South Broadway corridor to Mississippi Avenue, and the temporary shelters at the Denver Coliseum and National Western Complex (it’s on call Monday through Friday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.). STAR is confidential and gives agency to those it treats, who must consent to being taken to a new location, such as a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or shelter. The STAR team is not law enforcement and does not make arrests.

[Read More: Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million]

Since STAR’s June 1 launch, the van has responded to several calls a day, including requests for welfare checks and reports of intoxicated individuals. Its debut came amid increased calls to defund police departments following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man killed by an officer during an arrest in Minneapolis. And while the program’s stated mission—to provide community-driven alternatives to traditional law enforcement—is considered a key (and timely) step in diverting resources from the police, Caring for Denver partners have been planning a program like STAR for years.

Vinnie Cervantes, a community organizer and the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response’s point person with STAR, says police are often not the best solution to community health problems. “When officers approach a situation, they’re looking for whether a crime has been committed,” he says. “Whereas, STAR’s team approaches somebody with questions about whether they can be treated on the spot or whether they needed to be treated elsewhere. It’s the difference between looking for treatment versus looking for punishment.”

Chris Richardson, a Mental Health Center of Denver staffer who is one of two clinicians overseeing STAR, agrees. “Clinicians have the education background to be able to understand what someone may be going through,” says Richardson, who also points out that encountering a cop can be jarring for a person in need of help. “Sometimes police are trying to get from one call to the next call to the next call. The STAR van actually has the ability to be a little more intentional and a little more purposeful with that individual.”

The goal isn’t just to quell the current crisis, but to prevent a future one. The Mile High City offers a variety of programs designed to assist the population STAR will be helping (such as the Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center providing meals, a job readiness program, and other services for women, children, and transgender individuals facing poverty), and Richardson says the team will guide folks to those resources. “Having those long-term supports in place means that, when the next crisis comes, people can connect with those organizations instead of viewing 911 as their only option,” he says.

Modeled after the Crisis Assistance Helping Out in The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon, STAR is beginning as a pilot program because, Cervantes says, it must answer a variety of questions over the next six months to make sure the model is suited for Denver: How many calls were diverted from the police? How many people in crisis are receiving long-term care and support after their encounter with STAR? Is the community safer?

Complicating those questions will be COVID-19’s many impacts—known and unknown. “There’s going to be fewer unhoused folks on the street because they’re being forced into that shelter to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Cervantes says. “But during this time, there’s an escalation of mental health crises, especially because many people feel isolated. Some of that may skew the data.”

That’s why Cervantes will be examining STAR through another lens, one that depends slightly less on data. “The CAHOOTS program response vans have been successful,” says Cervantes. “But its real success in my mind is the network of services and different resources that CAHOOTS actually takes people to in order to get some level of support or safety.” Cervantes believes STAR, both current and future iterations, will reveal gaps in Denver’s own resources—and guide the city toward creating a more robust safety net for its most vulnerable residents.

Denver safety director, police chief grilled on the floor of Denver City Council

Updated 

Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 6.32.55 PM.png

Chief Paul Pazen of the Denver Police Department addresses members of the Denver City Council’s safety committee in the Denver City and County Building on June 17, 2020. 

For the first time since violent clashes broke out between police and protesters in Denver following the death of George Floyd, the city’s public safety director and police chief faced Council members and the public Wednesday morning during a two-hour safety committee hearing held in council chambers.

Councilman Paul Kashmann, who chairs the committee and represents District 6 in south Denver, asked safety leadership on June 1 to come before the group in the coming weeks to address its use-of-force tactics. A week later, the Denver Police Department announced it had banned all chokeholds, will require body cameras for SWAT officers during tactical operations and would mandate a use-of-force report be filed when an officer points a firearm at someone. 

Kashmann also called for the Office of the Independent Monitor to investigate the police department’s response to protesters, which is now underway.

“While I call on Denver Police to stand on higher ground and maintain focus when the pressure builds, I call on myself and my colleagues to do the same,” Kashmann said, addressing a room full of people packed as tightly as social distancing guidelines would allow.

“We talk often about once-in-a-lifetime occasions or opportunities, but this time is different. This may be a once-in-the-history-of-our-country moment when we sit in the midst of a pandemic that limits our distractions and narrows our focus,” he said. “I suggest we make the most of this chance to take a giant step toward creating a community in which justice for all is a reality and not just a promise.”  

‘Criminal justice transformation’

Murphy Robinson, who was appointed executive director by Mayor Michael Hancock in May, acknowledged the recent “remarkable outcry” for systemic change and told those who have taken to the streets, written emails and letters and participated in town halls: “I hear you. I see you.”

Under his leadership, Robinson pledged that the city’s public safety department — which includes the police, fire and sheriff departments — would rise above its “storied history” of violence and unaccountability and become a national example of change.

“I dedicate to the citizens of Denver, the mayor, the city council and all the people that serve in the Department of Public Safety that we will be a leader in the systemic and strategic transformation in the criminal justice system,” he promised. “We owe it to our children and their children to make sure that the experiences that they have with race relations, discrimination and injustice is vastly different from the experiences of our generation and ancestors before us.”

That can only happen by first listening to the community, he said.

In his presentation, Robinson highlighted the handful of public listening opportunities he’s hosted and participated in since protests broke out, and some common themes surface: Black Lives Matter; defunding the police department; police needing racial and social justice training; that emotional intelligence and character must be a core part of recruitment; that more accountability is needed to right wrongs within safety departments; and that community trust is broken and must be rebuilt.

Robinson said in all the conversations he’s had with people within the safety department, spanning sheriff deputies, police officers and firefighters, “everyone acknowledges it’s time” and wants “to be part of the change.”

Robinson said he will host a “demands” meeting in the coming weeks to discuss policy changes the community has been calling for. He is also creating a stakeholder group to “implement a strategic plan for criminal justice transformation,” which will outline benchmarks, timelines and the direction the department is heading.

Robinson said he is also launching a new division in his office, the Criminal Justice Transformation and Policy Arm, which will be responsible for drafting and implementing new policies. A formal announcement is forthcoming, he said.

Policing policies

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen provided council members with a high-level overview of the police department’s training requirements, use-of-force and crowd management policies, and efforts to dispatch fewer cops and more mental health experts through its co-responder and STAR programs, which are both funded through grants from the state and Caring for Denver, which is backed by taxpayer dollars.

Later this month, Pazen said DPD will be rolling out a new caseworker program to help curb recidivism among people experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges or substance abuse. Similarly to the other mental health programs, the “caseworker hub” program will not be funded through the police budget but instead by the state and Caring For Denver.

The police chief also assured council members that safety officials are in full support of the independent investigation. “We in no way, shape or form are justifying inappropriate actions by our officers, and we will fully hold our team accountable for those actions,” he pledged.

Pazen was booed by members of the public when he finished presenting.

Kashmann then provided 20 minutes for public comment, which was filled with calls to defund the police department. Several others called for the outright abolishment of the police, including Jesse Parris, a black man who regularly attends city council meetings.

“I’ve been at many of these protests. There was pepper spray shot at me. There was tear gas shot at me,” he said. “So, I know firsthand what this use of force is looking like, and you guys are violating everything that you said that you are going to do.

“It’s complete hypocrisy,” he said.

Pazen maintained in his presentation, and in an earlier interview with Colorado Politics, that police were ordered to break up crowds with tear gas and pepper balls only after provoked with items such as bricks and water bottles, as is law under Section 18, Article 9 of the Colorado Revised Statutes:

“Riot means a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs the performance of any governmental function.”

Denver police can fire chemical munitions, along with other less-lethal weapons, to gain compliance when violence or criminal behavior occurs, if there is ongoing destruction or there are attempts to prevent officers’ control.

Still, Robinson said the Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Independent Monitor are investigating 530 complaints of excessive force during protests. Some are more serious than others, he said, and any disagreements that arise between the two entities around disciplinary action will be left up to Robinson to decide.

Council fires back

When it came council members’ time to do the grilling — about an hour into the meeting — they didn’t hold back. Many of their questions and comments were made knowing they’d be unanswered due to time constraints, but will be followed up with after the meeting, safety officials said.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who represents District 11 and the Montbello neighborhood, fired off more than half a dozen questions, many of which revolved around the rank and experience of officers deployed during protests.

“Since I’ve been on this dais for five years, it’s next to impossible to fire a police officer,” she said. “We have seen, weekly, mayors and chiefs and directors of safety fire officers for egregious offenses, and I want to know why we are not doing that in Denver.”

Councilwoman At Large Robin Kniech took issue with the fact that mental health support is not funded by the safety department, which received $588 million this year, or nearly 40%, of the city’s $1.5 billion budget.  

“It’s not reassuring that we aren’t funding them from our own budget,” she said, before asking Pazen if he is open to gathering “serious” community input on the funding structure and reevaluating that structure if needed. Pazen agreed.

She also had Pazen agree to review the media’s aerial footage to better understand what happened on the ground.   

Council members Candi CdeBaca of District 9 and Chris Hinds of District 10 raised concerns about the integrity of the investigations within the office of the independent monitor and asked for assurance from Robinson, who gave it, that the investigation would be “truly” independent.

“I’m concerned about the lack of communication that happened with Council. There were a lot of things — most things — we found out about from Twitter,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5. “Quite frankly, that is unacceptable.”

Sawyer also asked to be handed the receipts from police response to protests.

“We are in a financial crisis, and we have in a lot of ways made it worse,” she said.

Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who represents District 1, said it was “really disturbing” to see what unfolded in the first several nights of protests in Denver.

“How do we build trust with our community, knowing what we’ve seen and knowing what you’ve seen?” she asked Robinson and Pazen. “There has to be something in the middle, and there has to be some type of process in grieving.”

‘No way to avoid this’

Kashmann said that this safety committee discussion is the first of more to come in the next few weeks and months.

On July 15, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is scheduled to meet with the safety committee to answer questions, in part, about the decision-making process to prosecute peace officers. Forthcoming public conversations with the citizen oversight board and the independent monitor are also in the works.

“There is no way for us to avoid this discussion,” Kashmann told community members in the council chambers. “The time is in front of us, OK. It’s going to be had.

“You’ll make your decision … down the road: Have we stood up and answered the call or not? OK? You’ll make that decision. I invite you to do so.”

How To Change Policing? New Service To Help People In Crisis

Alan Gionet • Denver CBS 4 • June 12, 2020

DENVER (CBS4)– It’s a plain van. Actually a re-purposed vehicle that had been destined for traffic enforcement. Yellow lights on top not blue. There’s no logo yet, but they’re working on it.

“It’s pretty unassuming,” says Carleigh Sailon, program manager for criminal justice services with Mental Health Center of Denver. “Most people have been pretty happy to have it show up and very willing to work with us on solutions.”

(credit: CBS)

The van has been on the streets of Denver since the beginning of June. It follows four years of a so-called, co-responding program in Denver which has put experts on social work, mental health and addiction into police cars with officers. Sailon calls the van, dubbed a “STAR” van for Support Team Assisted Response a “2.0 version.”

“We have sort of recognized responding with the police that oftentimes when we respond to a call the police really aren’t needed and the clinician is sort take over and handle that call completely.”

Mental Health agencies got together with paramedics from Denver Health, using money from the voter approved Caring 4 Denver ballot question voters approved in 2018.

Paramedic Dustin Yancy is one of four who have switched over to the STAR van.

“Maybe we can meet in the middle and have a better understanding of what each one is trying to achieve here.”

Experts know there’s a problem when police show up at an incident.

“If someone’s in crisis and they see a police officer show up you know kind of no matter what that officer is doing people automatically assume they’re in trouble or they may be at risk of going to jail,” says Sailon.

The very presence of a uniformed officer may be triggering.

“This is a non-judgmental approach, a client centered approach,” says Sailon. “We’re focusing on strengths not weaknesses, we’re really trying to meet people where they’re at.”

(credit: CBS)

It is patterned after a system in existence in the small city of Eugene, Oregon, in existence for 29 years. The system there has taken pressure off police, jails and emergency rooms.

“We don’t have necessarily have the right resources at the emergency department but that unfortunately our only avenue is to be able to transport patients to the emergency department,” says Justin Harper, assistant chief of paramedics for Denver Health. “A lot of the calls we run, you know we aren’t necessarily providing the right services by taking somebody and transporting them to the emergency department.”

He was hoping for enough STAR vans to cover every corner of the city if things go as they believe. Money could be saved without incarceration or emergency room treatment as long as there are enough alternative options available that starts with the STAR van notes Harper.

“So having this resource that’s sort of right in the middle where we can find definitive care and specifically get the services that people need.”

Often the STAR van will offer a ride to substance abuse or mental health treatment.

“This just feels so much more appropriate when there isn’t a risk element, when there isn’t a public safety element,” says Sailon. “I can just see that walking up with a paramedic, I’m received differently than when I’m with an officer because of that idea of ‘Oh my goodness am I in trouble?’”

(credit: CBS)

So far on their STAR van runs, they’ve been able to show up when police are already on scene and allow them to leave. They have yet to have to call police for backup. No one is armed in the STAR van.

“Working with the police for a number of years I mean I think there are a lot of things that have wound up on the law enforcement’s plate that really don’t belong there,” says Sailon. “Those are not public safety issues. They are not law enforcement issues. They are public health issues.”

A long-planned program to remove police from some 911 calls launched as Denver’s streets erupted in police brutality protests

Kevin Beaty – Denverite – June 8, 2020

Roshan Bliss has been trying to find ways to curb police violence for years and scored a major victory at the beginning of the month, just as Denver started protesting racism and police brutality.

Bliss, a volunteer and co-chair of the Denver Justice Project, helped shepherd a pilot project into existence that’s now diverting some 911 calls away from armed officers to an unassuming van manned by a Denver Health paramedic and a social worker from the Mental Health Center of Denver. It’s called Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, and the idea is to send more appropriate responses to 911 calls that have to do with substance abuse, mental health crises or people who just need help connecting to services. A grant from the Caring 4 Denver fund, which voters approved in 2019, has given STAR at least six months to prove it can be effective.

STAR is one way to “dismantle policing,” Bliss says, an idea that’s become talked about widely and loudly during protests reacting to the killing of George Floyd. The pilot program coincidentally began while massive actions against police brutality entered their fifth consecutive day in Denver.

Bliss and his colleagues began publicly talking about the program — or elements of it, at least — in 2017, including to a then-Denver police commander named Paul Pazen. When Pazen became chief in 2018, he was primed to help get the ball rolling. Last year, Bliss, some fellow activists and a delegation of local lawmakers took a trip to Eugene, Oregon, where a system like STAR has been in operation for more than 30 years. Bliss believes Denver is the first major city in the nation to copy Eugene’s model, removing police from situations that they themselves could make more dangerous.

The stakes are high, activists say.

If mental health workers had been sent to the motel where Michael Marshall, who had schizophrenia, was accused of trespassing, Bliss believes he could have avoided the Denver jail where he was later killed by sheriff’s deputies. Many of the names heard shouted at marches this week — Paul Castaway, Paul Childs, Marvin Booker — are people who died after contacts with police; Bliss thinks these cases very well could have been diverted to STAR, had it started sooner.

Most 911 calls, he said, stem from deeper issues like a lack of affordable housing or difficulty accessing food or mental health resources. He said American society has passed too many of our problems on to police departments, which are ill-equipped to deal with many non-violent emergencies.

“We can work towards different ways to address our social problems,” Bliss said. “You don’t need armed and badged gunmen.”

That structural racism contributes to crime has also been discussed during protest in recent weeks.

Roshan Bliss poses for a portrait, June 8, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Roshan Bliss poses for a portrait, June 8, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Carleigh Sailon, one of two Mental Health Center of Denver workers who’s been riding around in the van taking calls, said she’s excited to be a part of a creative way to change how the city deals with crises. Helping people, and finding better ways to do it, are what motivates her.

“I’m in this field because social justice is my passion. Bucking systems that have historically not worked is what I decided I wanted to do,” she said, especially “during this time when there’s just so clearly a movement going on, calling for a better response.”

STAR hit the ground running.

Sailon and her colleague, Chris Richardson, have been taking turns working the mental health side of STAR since it launched last Monday. Richardson said they’ve been very busy.

“The past three days have been just a blur,” Richardson said. “It’s actually gone incredibly well.”

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, STAR picks up 911 calls within the downtown “lollipop” area, which is basically a large circle around Civic Center, Capitol Hill and Downtown with a long stem stretching south down Broadway. Bliss said historical 911 call data informed the timing and location choices for this trial period. Richardson said they’ve since added the National Western Center to its service area, since the city set up a makeshift homeless shelter there as it sought to mitigate COVID-19.

Many of the cases Richardson and Sailon take involve people living in homelessness. Sailon said she helped some people in shelters dealing with suicidal thoughts and people on the street wrestling with substance abuse. Because they’re so deeply involved in the city’s social-work world, she and Richards can use their networks and knowledge of the system to connect people directly with case managers or other resources. They’ll even give people a ride to wherever they need to go.

They can navigate the city’s mental health landscape more quickly than police officers can, Richardson said, while also spending more time to make sure people get what they need.

“We have time on our side to see what’s really going on to make sure that person is connected,” he said. “It’s the idea of being able to provide the right resource at the right time.”

Richardson and Sailon have helped operate the Mental Health Center of Denver’s co-responder program, which embeds social workers with police officers to help cops navigate tricky situations. STAR goes one step further.

Chris Richardson and Carleigh Sailon with the Mental Health Center of Denver (left and right) and Spencer Lee, a Denver Health paramedic, stand in front of the Support Team Assisted Response's new van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)Chris Richardson and Carleigh Sailon with the Mental Health Center of Denver (left and right) and Spencer Lee, a Denver Health paramedic, stand in front of the Support Team Assisted Response’s new van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The number of unhoused patients they’ve seen so far is partially influenced by the service area they’re working.

“Policing has always been about keeping down marginalized people, from its origins, and that has included Black folks and other folks not considered ‘white’ and poor people,” he said. “You cant have racial justice without economic justice.”

The fact that Pazen helped green light the project, Richardson says, shows DPD leadership is committed to morphing the department into a more modern organization.

“I think Denver is doing a lot of steps to change the culture, change their approach,” Richardson said. “They want to move to a 21st-century policing model.”

Bliss hopes STAR can grow, treating the symptoms of systemic problems while the city deals with some root causes.

He’d like to see 15 or 20 vans doing this kind of work across the whole city, each with a different service area that caters to a neighborhood’s specific needs. A van on the west side, for instance, might employ bilingual EMTs and mental health staff.

In the next six months, Richardson and Sailon will work to identify ways in which the program needs to be tweaked, while they, Bliss and other interested parties try to drum up data on how things are going.

Bliss said the next step would involve a request for proposals. He hopes a community organization steps up to own the project for the long haul, like has happened in Eugene, while taxpayer dollars help fund it.

An existing network of street medics and community service providers, like the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR), helped advocate for the pilot and are working to make sure it can grow.

In a prepared statement, DASHR’s Vinnie Cervantes said supporters “insist that a program like this must be community-owned and led.”

Many of these people are working on a volunteer basis to make it happen.

Bliss, for instance, has a day job helping run the nonprofit Project VOYCE. He works on STAR, he said, “doing what is right in my copious free time.”

As he thinks about minimizing damage to communities at the hands of police, he’s hoping for some big changes. Not all are new ideas.

“To abolish police we need serious affordable housing. We need food programs,” he said. “We need to address the causes of inequality, poverty and suffering and create ways communities can support themselves in dealing with hard things.”

ENVISION:YOU AND CARING FOR DENVER FOUNDATION ANNOUNCE TELEHEALTH PROGRAM FOR LGBTQ COMMUNITY

To address the COVID-19 crisis, Envision:You—a non-profit, behavioral health advocacy and support organization serving the needs of Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community—announced the launch of a telehealth program. The mental health services provided under this program will assist members of the queer community who are experiencing greater behavioral health needs as a result of the unfolding, public health emergency.

According to Steven Haden, co-founder of Envision:You, “The idea is to provide short-term, no-cost services to help individuals with mental health, emotional and substance use issues and interpersonal relationship concerns that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. The behavioral health needs of queer individuals are more complex and the outcomes more distressing under usual circumstances, but as a result of the rapidly unfolding nature of the crisis, underlying concerns are exacerbated, and new challenges will arise.” Haden added, “we are grateful for our collaboration with Caring for Denver Foundation and their strong commitment to supporting the mental health needs of LGBTQ+ people.”

Behavioral health clinicians from Colorado Health Network (coloradohealthnetwork.org)Khesed Wellness (khesedwellness.com), and Youth Seen (youthseen.orgwill provide the telehealth services as part of the Envision:You COVID-19 Behavioral Health Support Program. To connect with participating service providers, visit envision-you.org and click on the following symbol. 

According to Heather Lundy Nelson, LPC, NCC, founder and CEO of Khesed Wellness, “LGBTQ+ people are at particular risk for roadblocks to affordable, high-quality, mental health care. In fact, the idea for Khesed Wellness began when I couldn’t find a mental health therapist I could afford while navigating suicidal ideation during my coming out process. Especially now, as we navigate the unique challenges posed to our LGBTQ+ community, we need access to free and affordable services.” Heather added, “We are thrilled to work with Caring for Denver and Envision:You to provide free services to displaced LGBTQ+ adults and youth impacted by the coronavirus.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. An unintended consequence of distancing is the loss of the social connections that protect LGBTQIA youth from stress, anxiety and depression. We are proud to support organizations in our community working to address these needs,” said Lorez Meinhold, executive director of the Caring for Denver Foundation.

Dr. Tara Jae, from Youth Seen, said, “We are very familiar with the negative psychological and physical impacts that discrimination has in our LGBTQ folx of color. With the onset of this pandemic, we are keenly aware and preparing for the long term effects we will have in our community as a result of instability and lack of access to resources, specifically around mental and physical health. To have the opportunity to expand our mental health and peer support by providing no financial hurdles will be essential for our QTBIPoC and QTPoC communities.”

Darrell Vigil, chief executive officer of the Colorado Health Network, talked about enhancing the mental health services provided by the organization. “It has become increasingly clear to us that in order to improve the wellbeing of our clients, we have to address more than just their physical health. As we have expanded our behavioral health services across Colorado we are committed to meeting our LGBTQ+ clients where they are especially during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Program Criteria:

  • You live in Colorado.
  • You identify as Queer or part of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • You have been impacted by COVID-19.
  • You do not have insurance to cover the cost of services.

About Caring for Denver

Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, dismantling stigma, and turning the community’s desire to help into action. To learn more, visit caring4denver.org

About Envision:You

The Envision:You mission is to support, educate, and empower Colorado’s LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) community living with a mental health or substance use disorder. To learn more, visit envision-you.org.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis, please contact Colorado Crisis Services by calling 844-493-8255, or text TALK to 38255.

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Alternatives to Jail $7M Funding Opportunity

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Alternatives to Jail $7M Funding Opportunity

April 7, 2020

Media Contact – Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483

Denver, CO
– Caring for Denver Foundation announced today it is inviting proposals for a new $7 million dollar funding opportunity for programs, projects and/or activities that address Alternatives to Jail, a priority area, for Caring for Denver Foundation.

The vision of the Caring for Denver’s investments in this priority area is to have greater supports upfront and more opportunities to provide treatment and interventions before, during and after criminal justice involvement in Denver so that people are supported and connected throughout their recovery.

“Denver residents continue to face unparalleled setbacks and risks to their mental well-being, especially now amid the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director of Caring for Denver Foundation. “We’re incredibly eager to begin partnering with the community on solutions that move us to a public health, trauma, mental health and substance misuse crisis response, with care and services provided first, and jail as a last resort.”

“When we don’t adequately fund mental health and substance misuse, we pay for it in the criminal justice system, the child welfare system, in the ER and schools. We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this,“ said State Rep. Leslie Herod, Board Chair. “This is no longer about them anymore, it’s about us, and I’m proud to continue working with Caring for Denver on the bold ways we can provide services to those in need without leaning on the criminal justice system.”

With robust input from over 1,600 community residents, Alternatives to Jail, was identified an immediate area of need. The full strategic funding priorities report including other areas of focus can be found here.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis

– Fund community-identified priorities

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Funding in Support of COVID-19 Community and Frontline Responders

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Funding in Support of COVID-19 Community and Frontline Responders

Media Contact – Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation announced today funding designed to help organizations and frontline responders during the COVID-19 crisis.

Caring for Denver Foundation was created to quickly respond to emerging mental health needs and substance misuse issues in our communities. We are designed to react to the rapidly changing needs of our communities and to support them as they address the growing impacts of this current pandemic.

Though our physical offices are closed, we are working diligently to provide fast, general operating funding to support our communities by:

  1. Ensuring our funding reaches those most likely to be able to respond to mental health and substance misuse crises during this time.
  2. Reinforcing the frontline resources of community-driven mental health and those working to address substance misuse so they may continue meeting the needs of the populations they serve.
  3. Supporting providers and organizations overwhelmed working on mental health and substance misuse during this time so they remain able to continue to support the ongoing needs of the community as this rapidly changing situation progresses.

To this end, Caring for Denver has designated a Colorado COVID-19 Support Fund including grants and staff support in three specific areas:

  • An emergency childcare program for children of those providers in Denver supporting critically at-risk populations. Caring for Denver is dedicating resources toward efforts to help ensure those have the social supports they need to continue providing vital services to meet the demand for care and limit any barriers to care.
  • Funding to support self-care including crisis intervention for support and access to behavioral health for those on the frontlines caring for the critically ill and homeless populations.
  • Flexible and responsive funds to those providers working on mental health and substance misuse issues so they can continue to serve at-risk populations.

In partnership with other foundations, agencies, and community organizations, Caring for Denver will continue to monitor needs and align resources for both the short-term and long-term.

“These are difficult times for us all, especially those on the frontlines, as we combat the spread of coronavirus across our city and state. As we navigate these uncharted waters, I am proud to work with Caring for Denver to bolster social supports for our healthcare workers and the mental health programs available to them,” Leslie Herod, Caring for Denver Foundation Board Chair.

“We want to ensure that providers are equipped to meet the rapidly changing needs of the communities they’re serving during this crisis. And as we’ve continually done, we’ll listen to the community and adjust our actions to address needs as this situation changes, ” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director.

“I applaud Caring for Denver for taking these steps to support the hard-working residents of our city when they need it the most,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “I’ve said from the beginning, we are going to get through this together, by taking care of each other and ensuring the most vulnerable among us are always a priority.”

Mental health and substance use organizations are critical Denver safety-net providers in communities serving at-risk populations. This funding will seek to ensure the following organizations have the operational resources necessary to meet the community’s ongoing needs:

  • Servicios de la Raza
  • The Harm Reduction Center
  • The Center for Trauma & Resiliency
  • Life-Line Colorado
  • Element of Discovery – Therapists of Color
  • Tribe Recovery Homes
  • Sobriety House
  • The Center
  • The Empowerment Program
  • The Rose Andom Center
  • Friends of the Haven
  • CHARG Resource Center

Self-care dollars for staff supporting critically at-risk homeless populations:

  • The Gathering Place
  • Urban Peak
  • Denver Rescue Mission
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
  • Volunteers of America
  • The Salvation Army
  • The Delores Project
  • Catholic Charities
  • St. Francis Center

To find out information about future funding opportunities, please visit caring4denver.org or follow facebook.com/caring4denver.

About Caring for Denver Foundation

Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction.

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis.

– Fund community-identified priorities.

These actions outlined above fit squarely in the areas of early prevention of mental health and substance misuse challenges and will help ensure Denver residents have access to the appropriate care at the right time and support to navigate that care.

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Board Chair Rep. Leslie Herod

Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

About Executive Director Lorez Meinhold

Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

 

Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million

 

Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million

 

5280 • Maya Chiodo • 2/04/2020

In 2018, voters approved a $0.25 sales tax by passing the Caring for Denver ballot initiative. Now, a newly formed foundation is starting to dole out grants to programs that help Denverites experiencing mental health and substance misuse challenges get treatment.

As most voters are aware, it can feel like ages between the moment a ballot initiative is passed on Election Day and its implementation. In the case of Caring for Denver (the ballot initiative aimed at helping Denverites experiencing mental health struggles and substance misuse issues) it’s been 15 months of waiting. But for good reason.

The initiative created a foundation, which recently rolled out a list of three grant recipients set to receive about $2 million. This is part of what is estimated to be an annual total of approximately $35 million in revenue from the $0.25 sales tax this year. But before deciding on the programs to help fund, the foundation had to do its due diligence. First, it applied and received approval as a 501c3 nonprofit, then formed their board of directors, and hired staff—all in less than three months time. Next, led by executive director Lorez Meinhold, the foundation spoke with more than 1,500 community members, worked with more than 60 organizations, and conducted a poll to determine what, exactly, Denver really wanted. 

This first set of grant recipients mainly addresses alternatives to jail, co-responders programs, and training for first responders, since these were the areas outlined in the original initiative. If the programs are effective, the hope is that they may be adopted by other cities in Colorado and throughout the country. “We’re hoping that we serve as a model,” says Colorado Rep. Leslie Herod, who championed the ballot initiative and now serves as the foundation’s board chair. Here’s a look at where the money’s going. 

1. Expansion of the Co-Responder Program | $1,762,405

This program will expand a partnership between the Denver Police Department (DPD) and Mental Health Center of Denver by adding 10 mental health clinicians—who will ride along with law enforcement professionals to respond to calls where there is a known or expected mental or substance misuse need involved—and 11 case managers. Police districts with higher volumes of calls will receive those additional clinicians. (Districts 3 and 4, which together cover Denver’s southern half, will each receive two additional clinicians.)

The role of case managers, in contrast to the mitigation efforts of clinicians, involves comprehensive follow-ups with individuals. In 2018, after incidents with law enforcement, 71 people were connected to housing through the program. Now, with a greater number of people and resources, that number could grow.

2. Support Team Assisted Response | $208,141

The DPD will adopt Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), a community response program modeled after the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) in Eugene, Oregon.  After visiting Eugene to observe CAHOOTS, Herod was inspired to adopt and adapt the plan to fit Denver’s needs. 

To see how well the teams worked with law enforcement and how well respected they are in the community was really, really inspiring,” Herod says. Since Eugene and Denver have many differences (Eugene has a population of 170,000, is more rural, and less diverse than Denver), STAR will be a pilot program so that officials can determine what works. With DPD on board to try the program out, Herod believes the city has shown its true commitment to addressing the issues of mental health and substance misuse in a more “humane” way.

The program will pair EMTs and paramedics with health clinicians or peer navigators to respond to 911 dispatches involving a mental health or substance misuse issue. 

3. Verbal De-Escalation Training for First Responders | $24,246

Denver Health Paramedics and the Denver Fire Department will be equipped with tools that can help curtail the escalation of potentially threatening situations involving substance misuse or mental health distress. The training program, which is a pilot, will use Denver law enforcement’s existing Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) as a starting point.

As for what’s next on the docket, Caring for Denver is gearing up to review new grant proposals from city agencies, schools, nonprofits, and other stakeholder groups. After March, when the exact 2019 tax revenue is released (it’s expected to be close to $36.1 million), the foundation will review submitted proposals. Since the foundation is still brand new, they plan to review proposals and award grants one at a time. “We want to make sure we’re doing it right before we open up the next [grant area],” says Meinhold. 

Regardless of how many programs the foundation is able to fund this year, every penny of funding will be doled out. “We want the money in community,” Meinhold says. In particular, Herod hopes to see underserved populations and “unlikely contenders,” like groups who have never been funded by a large foundation before, vie for grant money. 

Seeing tangible results may take some time, but Caring for Denver is optimistic. “I want to be clear that what we’re asking for here is a culture shift,” Herod says. “It’s not easy, but I’m so glad that these folks are on board.”

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Priority Funding Areas

   

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Priority Funding Areas

Media contact: Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483 • taylor@caring4denver.org

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation recently released its initial strategic funding report outlining key funding areas to help address the mental health and substance misuse challenges facing the City and County of Denver.

Under leadership from Executive Director, Lorez Meinhold, Caring for Denver operates as an independent nonprofit foundation to oversee and distribute nearly $35M per year in funding to help catalyze bold and meaningful impact in our communities. Architected by State Representative Leslie Herod and funded by voters in 2018, Caring for Denver will harness the strength of the voter initiative in 2018 to partner with those on the front lines to forge a new path for tackling the right challenges with the most effective solutions by not only listening, but learning from the community from which it was created.

In the span of six weeks, Caring for Denver engaged in a robust community engagement effort that gathered input from more than 1,600 people with lived experience, first responders, creatives, youth, and so many others across 120 organizations and through small community events, four forums, three virtual events in English and Spanish, and by phone. This feedback informed the most immediate needs in the following areas:

  • Youth – Better address and support mental health and substance misuse, and create more connections for our youth.
  • Community-Centered Solutions – Use community knowledge, strengths, and resources to foster local connectedness and support.
  • Care Provision – More people in Denver have access to the mental health and substance misuse care at the right time, and the supports to navigate care.
  • Alternatives to Jail – Greater supports, connections, practices, and opportunities to redirect people experiencing mental health and substance misuse crisis away from and out of the criminal justice system.

“This report represents thoughtful input from so many throughout the city and will be the cornerstone of our work for the next several years. It is as much a reflection of community as it is of us. We will take a bold approach to grant-making that will have a lasting impact in our community. We are eager to begin to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, and turning the community’s desire to help into action,” said Executive Director, Lorez Meinhold.

“The work of Caring for Denver Foundation will be transformational for tens of thousands of residents, their families, friends and youth who struggle every single day with untreated and undertreated mental health and substance misuse challenges. I am proud to have championed the issue and continue the work,“ said Board Chair, Representative Leslie Herod.

The report is available at caring4denver.org/about and open for community feedback for the next month by emailing info@caring4denver.org. Check the website or facebook.com/caring4denver as more information is available on future calls for proposals and funding opportunities.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis

– Fund community-identified priorities

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now

Denver hosts first information session regarding mental health funding tax, Seth Juneac, Fox Denver 31

Denver nonprofit organization hosted an information session Saturday to gauge the public on mental health and substance misuse issues in the community.

Caring4Denver is tasked with identifying how to prioritize the funds coming from the mental health funding tax approved by Denver voters in November 2018. The measure would put $0.25 from every $100 spent into a community fund. Saturday’s meeting is to help determine how the estimated $45 million should be spent.

“As we form our strategic priorities, it’s important for us to community input,” said Caring4Denver executive director Lorez Meinhold. “Really hoping to hear from people, both the top issues they see going on in the city and county of Denver that they’re experiencing, the challenges they might face, and to talk about where to start with this funding, where should we start to prioritize funding and having them help inform where we go with those resources.”

Go to caring4denver.org/events for dates, times, locations, and to register today.

Caring Denver Foundation Aims to Include Input from Queer Community, Seth Holder, OutFront Magazine, 11/12/19

On November 7 at the Center for Visual Art, Caring for Denver Foundation held its public launch event. The well-attended event included leaders such as Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod and Carl Clark, M.D. from the Mental Health Center of Denver. Both of them, along with other community leaders, advocates, and persons with lived experience pushed to bring increased funding for mental health and substance misuse needs into reality.

Every day, thousands of our neighbors struggle with mental health and substance misuse, often without the support and resources they need. This is especially true of the LGBTQ community considering, 

  • In LGBTQ people ages 10-24, suicide is the second-leading cause of death (Centers for Disease Control, 2013).
  • People in the LGBTQ+ community experience mental health issues at higher rates. A recent study found 61 percent have depression, 45 percent have PTSD, and 36 percent have an anxiety disorder (Rainbow Health, January 2018). Overall, one in three LGBTQ adults experienced mental illness during the past year (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2015).
  • An estimated 25 percent of the LGBTQ community abuses substances, compared to about 9 percent the general population (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
  • In a national study, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. Also, 92 percent of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. (The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality).
  • LGBTQ  older adults face several unique challenges, including the combination of anti-LGBTQ+ stigma and ageism. Approximately 31 percent of LGBTQ older adults report depressive symptoms; 39 percent report serious thoughts of taking their own lives (American Psychiatric Association, 2017)

During this month and into early December, Caring for Denver Foundation will hold several community-wide events to better understand the specific concerns individuals and families are confronting. As part of this effort, Caring for Denver will be hosting events focused on the unique needs of  LGBTQ+ individuals in partnership with Envision:YouOne Coloradoand The Center on Colfax.

The events will be held:

November 25, University of Denver, Sturm Hall 379, from 5:30 p.m.  – 7:30 p.m.

December 4, The Center on Colfax, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. and again 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Space is limited for each of the events. 

According to Envision:You co-founder Steven Haden, “It’s wonderful Caring for Denver Foundation is dedicated to ensuring voices from marginalized communities are heard. We are grateful to the team at the Foundation for their work to address the unique needs of the queer community who face disparities in accessing and receiving care as well as experiencing poor outcomes.”

Will Denver Vote to Fund More Mental Health and Addiction Services?, Daliah Singer, 5280, 10/18/18

House Representative Leslie Herod is asking for the public’s help to address the Mile High City’s dearth of mental health and addiction services. “I see how much the community is hurting. I see our alarming rates of suicide…There are three to four overdoses on the streets of Denver every day,” she says. “We need more help, and we don’t have it right now.”

Currently, the Mile High City doesn’t have the money or the capacity to meet the community’s needs. According to Dr. Carl Clark, president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD), one in five people are dealing with a mental health or addiction issue on a daily basis, and one in four will face one over the course of the year. But, he adds, “only two out of five people are actually getting the help they need.” In part, that’s because they don’t know where to go or how to find a provider, or there aren’t any services nearby that they can access.

Denver voters asked to raise taxes to increase mental health, substance abuse funding, 7 News, 10/14/18
In Denver, one of those issues is being called Caring 4 Denver, which would raise $45 million every year to fund mental health and addiction services for children and adults by adding a 25-cent tax on every $100 in purchases.

On this weekend’s Politics Unplugged, State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, talks to Anne Trujillo about why she supports the initiative and why she thinks it eventually will be adopted by other cities and counties across the state.

Initiated Ordinance 301 — Caring 4 Denver — aims to relieve a mental health system under duress, Kevin Beaty, Denverite, 10/15/18
Initiated Ordinance 301, which appears on Denver’s ballot this year, is one group’s answer. The people behind the initiative marketed as Caring 4 Denver hope it will start moving the city toward improved care for both emergency workers and the people they serve, though even some supporters are skeptical that more money will result in better circumstances.

The measure aims to raise $45 million by adding a quarter-of-a-percent tax on sales – 25 cents on a $100 purchase – that would be pooled for use in mental health services. In the first two years, 20 percent of that money would go into a fund for a new mental health center, then 10 percent of that fund would be earmarked for the facility in following years. Up to five percent could be used for program administration, and the rest could be doled out as grants to any organization needing more mental health support.

Caring 4 Denver: What You Will Be Voting for in November, Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, 9/27/18
In November, Denver voters will weigh whether to pass Herod’s Caring 4 Denver ballot initiative, which would increase the sales tax by .25 percent, or about $45 million annually, to bolsters the city’s existing mental-health and substance-abuse treatment options and fund suicide prevention programs and those targeting the opioid epidemic.

The initiative is also designed to “reduce homelessness, improve long-term recovery, and reduce the use of jails and emergency rooms.” “The largest mental health facilities are jails and prisons,” Herod says. “I think this is the most important issue facing Denver today.”

Denver can and should help those with mental health needs, Leslie Herod & Carl Clark, 10/13/18
Caring 4 Denver will appear at the end of ballots in Denver as Initiated Ordinance 301 and will be a one-quarter-of 1 percent sales and use tax increase (25 cents on a $100-dollar purchase), and raise $45 million per year, to be used for improving the quality, availability, and affordability of community based mental health and addiction care in Denver.

Services that could be supported include counseling, in-patient treatment, school services and prevention programs. The funds will be managed by an independent board of stakeholders in mental health and addiction services.

"Help Denver win its war against the opioid epidemic" -Dr. Rob Valuck & Rep. Leslie Herod, Colorado Politics, 8/31/18
Caring 4 Denver will create a culture of change in our community. We can create a conversation where opioid addiction is destigmatized and help is available for those who need and want it. We have the power to make Denver one of the success stories. We have the power to fight the stigma. We have the power to act. And we have the power to vote to support treatment for opioid addiction and substance abuse.

Caring 4 Denver won’t solve the problem overnight but it will be the single greatest thing Denver has ever done to address the overdose crisis.

"Tax hike for Denver mental health and drug services makes the ballot" -Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, 8/22/18

A request for a 0.25 percent sales tax for mental health services and addiction treatment qualified for the November ballot in Denver Tuesday.

The measure is expected to raise $45 million to improve “the quality, availability and affordability of community-based mental health and addiction care,” said Caring 4 Denver, the group backing the proposal.

"Denver Voters To Decide On A Tax That Will Fund Mental Health, Substance Abuse Care" -John Daley, CPR, 8/23/18
A Denver ballot initiative could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to help people  with mental health and substance disorder issues.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, is spearheading the “Caring 4 Denver” campaign. She said the proposal makes financial sense in that, if it’s passed by voters, it could fund a variety of mental health programs.

The money would come from a one-quarter of 1 percent city sales tax — that’s 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

Caring 4 Denver on Colorado Inside Out, Colorado Public Television, 8/10/18
“This looks like the big winner on the Denver ballot.” -Patricia Calhoun

Patricia Calhoun, Justine Sandoval, Ross Kaminsky, Dave Kopel and host Dominic Dezzutti discuss Caring4Denver on Colorado Public Television – PBS – CPT12’s show “Colorado Inside Out” last Friday.

"Denver Will Vote on Proposed Sales-Tax Increase to Support Mental Health" -Chris Walker, Westword, 8/10/18
The initiative’s sponsors say that the money would address numerous public health and criminal justice crises facing the Denver area, such as extremely high suicide ratesincreasing opioid overdoses, and elevated recidivism rates (cycling in and out) at the city’s jail among those struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorders — which is costly to manage.

Denver is seeing an average of three opioid overdoses a day, and a study released on Wednesday by the University of Colorado Boulder found that one in twenty teens showing serious conduct or substance abuse problems dies by suicide in Colorado before the age of thirty.

"Supporters of a Denver tax proposal raising money for mental health and addiction services drop off signatures" -Esteban L. Hernandez, Denverite, 8/1/18
“People from all walks of life have come together to support mental health and addiction treatment for our friends, family members and neighbors,” Herod said. “We have countless stories of people walking past one of our volunteers until they hear the words ‘mental health & addiction’ and they stop in their tracks and turn around to find out more. We have been thanked over and over for the work we are doing. It is truly inspiring.”
"Community Seeks Tax Hike In Denver For Mental Health And Opioid Crisis" -Alan Gionet, CBS 4 News, 6/14/18
News coverage of the Caring 4 Denver campaign launch.
"‘Feedback: Caring for Denver’ is a vote for mental health" -Brandon Turner, Colorado Politics, 7/12/18
Too many preventative services are simply not available in Denver to people who can’t afford them. Access to this care can help prevent health crises and emergency room visits because people will have support in combating their illnesses, making it less likely they find themselves in an emergency situation.

For too long, Denver has ignored its mental health and substance abuse crisis. Now is the time to start ensuring every Denver resident has the help they need to get healthy. I urge Denver voters to support the Caring for Denver initiative and help our neighbors begin their path to stability.

"Caring for Denver Campaign Kickoff" -Molly Hendrickson, Denver Channel 7, 6/14/18

Representative Leslie Herod discusses the Caring 4 Denver initiative and how it will help people in Denver.

"How a Quarter Can Keep Struggling Non-Criminals in Denver Out of Jail" -Michael Roberts, Westword, 6/14/18
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is also a Caring 4 Denver booster. Herod says the DA understands that “what we’re doing right now doesn’t work and it’s costly; it diverts the attention of law enforcement from other safety needs the community has. But law enforcement’s hands are tied. They have to take action when they see something happening on the street — but if they could move people in crisis to a facility, get them to detox, get them the services they need, they would. Caring 4 Denver will help do that — and it also allows for co-responders, more mental health and substance abuse professionals who can ride along with Denver police when it’s appropriate.”
"Denver Ballot Initiative Aims To Finance Mental Health, Substance Abuse Programs" -John Daley, CPR, 4/5/18
A ballot initiative in Denver could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to help those with mental health and substance disorder issues.

State lawmaker Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, is spearheading the “Caring 4 Denver” campaign.  She says the proposal makes financial sense because if it’s passed by voters it could fund a variety of mental health programs. The proposal calls for a one-quarter of 1 percent sales tax — that’s 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

"Opinion: Lawmakers should continue to improve mental health care spending in Colorado" -Elizabeth Lochhead, DU Clarion, 4/30/18
Therefore, more funding for mental health and substance abuse services is itself a possible way to spend more efficiently. Yes, this will likely require an increase in sales tax, but taxpayers are already spending for high numbers of emergency room visits. Beyond this, more support for those dealing with mental illness and addiction is important for the well-being of any community. Mental illness affects people of all incomes and circumstances, but it is also of the major causes of homelessness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, and there are over 5,000 homeless people in Denver (this comes from 2017’s Point-in-Time survey, which acknowledges it is a low estimate due to undercounting).
"Denver voters could decide on sales tax for mental health, addiction" -Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, 4/5/18
“I think the most tragic part of it all is that people who know they need help can’t get it,” said Herod, who has worked extensively on the issue in the statehouse. Robert Clark, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, said 1 in 5 people in the city are dealing with a mental health or substance-abuse issue.

“Everybody knows somebody who’s dealing with this problem,” Clark said. “What we want is for the door to be wide-open for anybody to get the help they need.

"Caring4Denver Campaign Aims To Fund Mental Health Programs" -Mark Ackerman, CBS 4 News, 4/5/18
State lawmaker Leslie Herod, a Democrat representing Denver, is appealing directly to City of Denver voters to help people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Standing on the west steps of the state Capitol on Thursday, members of the group Caring4Denver said “we can’t rely on Washington” or Colorado lawmakers to fix this problem.

"Proposed Sales Tax Would Fund Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment" -Ana Campbell, Westword, 4/5/18
Resources to treat mental-health issues and substance abuse are woefully limited in Colorado.

One in every ten residents lives in a place with little or no access to medication-assisted substance-abuse treatment, while across the state, communities both rural and urban struggle with an ever-expanding opioid epidemic. Treatment for mental-health issues is so scarce, more patients in Colorado must go out of network to find doctors than do patients in most other states. And last year, Arapahoe House, the state’s largest drug-and-alcohol treatment center, closed after more than forty years.

"Denver sales tax hike would raise millions for mental health care, substance abuse treatment" -Jesse Paul, Denver Post, 4/5/18

Backers of the effort, including Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, the Mental Health Center of Denver and Mental Health Colorado, say it’s a necessary step to create a sustainable way to help struggling people in Denver and identify ways to promote well-being. The group says polling has shown that Denverites would overwhelmingly support such a sales tax increase.

"Group Petitions For Sales Tax Increase To Solve City Problems" -CBS 4 Denver, 4/4/18
Mental health, substance abuse and affordable housing groups have said for years that resources in Denver are limited. A group called Caring for Denver wants that to change. They are proposing raising the sales tax to pay for such services. The tax increase would amount to approximately 25 cents on a $100 purchase and could mean $45 million every year for those programs.
"Denver tax proposal would raise $45 million per year for mental health, housing, addiction" -Andrew Kenney, Denverite, 4/5/18
The Mental Health Center of Denver is partnering with state Rep. Leslie Herod to campaign for a half-billion dollars of new spending on mental health, addiction services and housing over the next decade.

They want local voters to decide whether to raise city sales taxes by 25 cents per $100 of spending on restaurant meals, consumer goods and more. The hike is expected to generate about $45 million in its first year.

Expand accordions below for updates
Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Alternatives to Jail $7M Funding Opportunity

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces New Alternatives to Jail $7M Funding Opportunity

April 7, 2020

Media Contact – Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483

Denver, CO
– Caring for Denver Foundation announced today it is inviting proposals for a new $7 million dollar funding opportunity for programs, projects and/or activities that address Alternatives to Jail, a priority area, for Caring for Denver Foundation.

The vision of the Caring for Denver’s investments in this priority area is to have greater supports upfront and more opportunities to provide treatment and interventions before, during and after criminal justice involvement in Denver so that people are supported and connected throughout their recovery.

“Denver residents continue to face unparalleled setbacks and risks to their mental well-being, especially now amid the coronavirus pandemic,” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director of Caring for Denver Foundation. “We’re incredibly eager to begin partnering with the community on solutions that move us to a public health, trauma, mental health and substance misuse crisis response, with care and services provided first, and jail as a last resort.”

“When we don’t adequately fund mental health and substance misuse, we pay for it in the criminal justice system, the child welfare system, in the ER and schools. We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this,“ said State Rep. Leslie Herod, Board Chair. “This is no longer about them anymore, it’s about us, and I’m proud to continue working with Caring for Denver on the bold ways we can provide services to those in need without leaning on the criminal justice system.”

With robust input from over 1,600 community residents, Alternatives to Jail, was identified an immediate area of need. The full strategic funding priorities report including other areas of focus can be found here.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis

– Fund community-identified priorities

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Funding in Support of COVID-19 Community and Frontline Responders

 

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Funding in Support of COVID-19 Community and Frontline Responders

Media Contact – Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation announced today funding designed to help organizations and frontline responders during the COVID-19 crisis.

Caring for Denver Foundation was created to quickly respond to emerging mental health needs and substance misuse issues in our communities. We are designed to react to the rapidly changing needs of our communities and to support them as they address the growing impacts of this current pandemic.

Though our physical offices are closed, we are working diligently to provide fast, general operating funding to support our communities by:

  1. Ensuring our funding reaches those most likely to be able to respond to mental health and substance misuse crises during this time.
  2. Reinforcing the frontline resources of community-driven mental health and those working to address substance misuse so they may continue meeting the needs of the populations they serve.
  3. Supporting providers and organizations overwhelmed working on mental health and substance misuse during this time so they remain able to continue to support the ongoing needs of the community as this rapidly changing situation progresses.

To this end, Caring for Denver has designated a Colorado COVID-19 Support Fund including grants and staff support in three specific areas:

  • An emergency childcare program for children of those providers in Denver supporting critically at-risk populations. Caring for Denver is dedicating resources toward efforts to help ensure those have the social supports they need to continue providing vital services to meet the demand for care and limit any barriers to care.
  • Funding to support self-care including crisis intervention for support and access to behavioral health for those on the frontlines caring for the critically ill and homeless populations.
  • Flexible and responsive funds to those providers working on mental health and substance misuse issues so they can continue to serve at-risk populations.

In partnership with other foundations, agencies, and community organizations, Caring for Denver will continue to monitor needs and align resources for both the short-term and long-term.

“These are difficult times for us all, especially those on the frontlines, as we combat the spread of coronavirus across our city and state. As we navigate these uncharted waters, I am proud to work with Caring for Denver to bolster social supports for our healthcare workers and the mental health programs available to them,” Leslie Herod, Caring for Denver Foundation Board Chair.

“We want to ensure that providers are equipped to meet the rapidly changing needs of the communities they’re serving during this crisis. And as we’ve continually done, we’ll listen to the community and adjust our actions to address needs as this situation changes, ” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director.

“I applaud Caring for Denver for taking these steps to support the hard-working residents of our city when they need it the most,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “I’ve said from the beginning, we are going to get through this together, by taking care of each other and ensuring the most vulnerable among us are always a priority.”

Mental health and substance use organizations are critical Denver safety-net providers in communities serving at-risk populations. This funding will seek to ensure the following organizations have the operational resources necessary to meet the community’s ongoing needs:

  • Servicios de la Raza
  • The Harm Reduction Center
  • The Center for Trauma & Resiliency
  • Life-Line Colorado
  • Element of Discovery – Therapists of Color
  • Tribe Recovery Homes
  • Sobriety House
  • The Center
  • The Empowerment Program
  • The Rose Andom Center
  • Friends of the Haven
  • CHARG Resource Center

Self-care dollars for staff supporting critically at-risk homeless populations:

  • The Gathering Place
  • Urban Peak
  • Denver Rescue Mission
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
  • Volunteers of America
  • The Salvation Army
  • The Delores Project
  • Catholic Charities
  • St. Francis Center

To find out information about future funding opportunities, please visit caring4denver.org or follow facebook.com/caring4denver.

About Caring for Denver Foundation

Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction.

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis.

– Fund community-identified priorities.

These actions outlined above fit squarely in the areas of early prevention of mental health and substance misuse challenges and will help ensure Denver residents have access to the appropriate care at the right time and support to navigate that care.

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Board Chair Rep. Leslie Herod

Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now serves as Chair of the Caring for Denver Board.

About Executive Director Lorez Meinhold

Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

 

Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million

 

Caring for Denver Issues First Grants Worth About $2 Million

 

5280 • Maya Chiodo • 2/04/2020

In 2018, voters approved a $0.25 sales tax by passing the Caring for Denver ballot initiative. Now, a newly formed foundation is starting to dole out grants to programs that help Denverites experiencing mental health and substance misuse challenges get treatment.

As most voters are aware, it can feel like ages between the moment a ballot initiative is passed on Election Day and its implementation. In the case of Caring for Denver (the ballot initiative aimed at helping Denverites experiencing mental health struggles and substance misuse issues) it’s been 15 months of waiting. But for good reason.

The initiative created a foundation, which recently rolled out a list of three grant recipients set to receive about $2 million. This is part of what is estimated to be an annual total of approximately $35 million in revenue from the $0.25 sales tax this year. But before deciding on the programs to help fund, the foundation had to do its due diligence. First, it applied and received approval as a 501c3 nonprofit, then formed their board of directors, and hired staff—all in less than three months time. Next, led by executive director Lorez Meinhold, the foundation spoke with more than 1,500 community members, worked with more than 60 organizations, and conducted a poll to determine what, exactly, Denver really wanted. 

This first set of grant recipients mainly addresses alternatives to jail, co-responders programs, and training for first responders, since these were the areas outlined in the original initiative. If the programs are effective, the hope is that they may be adopted by other cities in Colorado and throughout the country. “We’re hoping that we serve as a model,” says Colorado Rep. Leslie Herod, who championed the ballot initiative and now serves as the foundation’s board chair. Here’s a look at where the money’s going. 

1. Expansion of the Co-Responder Program | $1,762,405

This program will expand a partnership between the Denver Police Department (DPD) and Mental Health Center of Denver by adding 10 mental health clinicians—who will ride along with law enforcement professionals to respond to calls where there is a known or expected mental or substance misuse need involved—and 11 case managers. Police districts with higher volumes of calls will receive those additional clinicians. (Districts 3 and 4, which together cover Denver’s southern half, will each receive two additional clinicians.)

The role of case managers, in contrast to the mitigation efforts of clinicians, involves comprehensive follow-ups with individuals. In 2018, after incidents with law enforcement, 71 people were connected to housing through the program. Now, with a greater number of people and resources, that number could grow.

2. Support Team Assisted Response | $208,141

The DPD will adopt Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), a community response program modeled after the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) in Eugene, Oregon.  After visiting Eugene to observe CAHOOTS, Herod was inspired to adopt and adapt the plan to fit Denver’s needs. 

To see how well the teams worked with law enforcement and how well respected they are in the community was really, really inspiring,” Herod says. Since Eugene and Denver have many differences (Eugene has a population of 170,000, is more rural, and less diverse than Denver), STAR will be a pilot program so that officials can determine what works. With DPD on board to try the program out, Herod believes the city has shown its true commitment to addressing the issues of mental health and substance misuse in a more “humane” way.

The program will pair EMTs and paramedics with health clinicians or peer navigators to respond to 911 dispatches involving a mental health or substance misuse issue. 

3. Verbal De-Escalation Training for First Responders | $24,246

Denver Health Paramedics and the Denver Fire Department will be equipped with tools that can help curtail the escalation of potentially threatening situations involving substance misuse or mental health distress. The training program, which is a pilot, will use Denver law enforcement’s existing Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) as a starting point.

As for what’s next on the docket, Caring for Denver is gearing up to review new grant proposals from city agencies, schools, nonprofits, and other stakeholder groups. After March, when the exact 2019 tax revenue is released (it’s expected to be close to $36.1 million), the foundation will review submitted proposals. Since the foundation is still brand new, they plan to review proposals and award grants one at a time. “We want to make sure we’re doing it right before we open up the next [grant area],” says Meinhold. 

Regardless of how many programs the foundation is able to fund this year, every penny of funding will be doled out. “We want the money in community,” Meinhold says. In particular, Herod hopes to see underserved populations and “unlikely contenders,” like groups who have never been funded by a large foundation before, vie for grant money. 

Seeing tangible results may take some time, but Caring for Denver is optimistic. “I want to be clear that what we’re asking for here is a culture shift,” Herod says. “It’s not easy, but I’m so glad that these folks are on board.”

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Priority Funding Areas

   

Caring for Denver Foundation Announces Priority Funding Areas

Media contact: Taylor Roddy • 312.208.6483 • taylor@caring4denver.org

Denver, CO – Caring for Denver Foundation recently released its initial strategic funding report outlining key funding areas to help address the mental health and substance misuse challenges facing the City and County of Denver.

Under leadership from Executive Director, Lorez Meinhold, Caring for Denver operates as an independent nonprofit foundation to oversee and distribute nearly $35M per year in funding to help catalyze bold and meaningful impact in our communities. Architected by State Representative Leslie Herod and funded by voters in 2018, Caring for Denver will harness the strength of the voter initiative in 2018 to partner with those on the front lines to forge a new path for tackling the right challenges with the most effective solutions by not only listening, but learning from the community from which it was created.

In the span of six weeks, Caring for Denver engaged in a robust community engagement effort that gathered input from more than 1,600 people with lived experience, first responders, creatives, youth, and so many others across 120 organizations and through small community events, four forums, three virtual events in English and Spanish, and by phone. This feedback informed the most immediate needs in the following areas:

  • Youth – Better address and support mental health and substance misuse, and create more connections for our youth.
  • Community-Centered Solutions – Use community knowledge, strengths, and resources to foster local connectedness and support.
  • Care Provision – More people in Denver have access to the mental health and substance misuse care at the right time, and the supports to navigate care.
  • Alternatives to Jail – Greater supports, connections, practices, and opportunities to redirect people experiencing mental health and substance misuse crisis away from and out of the criminal justice system.

“This report represents thoughtful input from so many throughout the city and will be the cornerstone of our work for the next several years. It is as much a reflection of community as it is of us. We will take a bold approach to grant-making that will have a lasting impact in our community. We are eager to begin to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, and turning the community’s desire to help into action,” said Executive Director, Lorez Meinhold.

“The work of Caring for Denver Foundation will be transformational for tens of thousands of residents, their families, friends and youth who struggle every single day with untreated and undertreated mental health and substance misuse challenges. I am proud to have championed the issue and continue the work,“ said Board Chair, Representative Leslie Herod.

The report is available at caring4denver.org/about and open for community feedback for the next month by emailing info@caring4denver.org. Check the website or facebook.com/caring4denver as more information is available on future calls for proposals and funding opportunities.

About Caring for Denver Foundation
Caring for Denver Foundation was founded and funded with overwhelming voter support in November of 2018 to put 25 cents from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund for mental health and substance misuse issues. Caring for Denver will distribute at least $35 million per year to support programs in Denver that:

– Increase mental health and substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

– Provide alternatives to jails and emergency rooms as a first stop for those in crisis

– Fund community-identified priorities

Caring for Denver Foundation is a public 501c3 nonprofit organization integrated with and accountable to stakeholders across Denver with oversight from 13 Board members appointed by the Mayor, District Attorney, and City Council President. Representative Leslie Herod serves as the board chairwoman.

About Lorez Meinhold
Lorez Meinhold serves as the Executive Director of Caring for Denver. She brings over nineteen years of implementation and policy experience as a director of multilateral initiatives involving the public, private and civic sectors, working at the local, state, and national levels. Lorez has worked in many capacities integrating health programs addressing mental health and substance misuse needs, connecting early childhood and health communities, delivery and payment system reforms, and efforts that required statewide stakeholder engagement.

About Rep. Leslie Herod
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver) was elected in 2016 as the first LGBTQ African American in the Colorado General Assembly. Since then, she has passed 52 bills, addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, education, and civil rights protections. Herod championed the Caring for Denver Ballot measure and now

Denver hosts first information session regarding mental health funding tax, Seth Juneac, Fox Denver 31

Denver nonprofit organization hosted an information session Saturday to gauge the public on mental health and substance misuse issues in the community.

Caring4Denver is tasked with identifying how to prioritize the funds coming from the mental health funding tax approved by Denver voters in November 2018. The measure would put $0.25 from every $100 spent into a community fund. Saturday’s meeting is to help determine how the estimated $45 million should be spent.

“As we form our strategic priorities, it’s important for us to community input,” said Caring4Denver executive director Lorez Meinhold. “Really hoping to hear from people, both the top issues they see going on in the city and county of Denver that they’re experiencing, the challenges they might face, and to talk about where to start with this funding, where should we start to prioritize funding and having them help inform where we go with those resources.”

Go to caring4denver.org/events for dates, times, locations, and to register today.

Caring Denver Foundation Aims to Include Input from Queer Community, Seth Holder, OutFront Magazine, 11/12/19

On November 7 at the Center for Visual Art, Caring for Denver Foundation held its public launch event. The well-attended event included leaders such as Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod and Carl Clark, M.D. from the Mental Health Center of Denver. Both of them, along with other community leaders, advocates, and persons with lived experience pushed to bring increased funding for mental health and substance misuse needs into reality.

Every day, thousands of our neighbors struggle with mental health and substance misuse, often without the support and resources they need. This is especially true of the LGBTQ community considering, 

  • In LGBTQ people ages 10-24, suicide is the second-leading cause of death (Centers for Disease Control, 2013).
  • People in the LGBTQ+ community experience mental health issues at higher rates. A recent study found 61 percent have depression, 45 percent have PTSD, and 36 percent have an anxiety disorder (Rainbow Health, January 2018). Overall, one in three LGBTQ adults experienced mental illness during the past year (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2015).
  • An estimated 25 percent of the LGBTQ community abuses substances, compared to about 9 percent the general population (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
  • In a national study, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. Also, 92 percent of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. (The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality).
  • LGBTQ  older adults face several unique challenges, including the combination of anti-LGBTQ+ stigma and ageism. Approximately 31 percent of LGBTQ older adults report depressive symptoms; 39 percent report serious thoughts of taking their own lives (American Psychiatric Association, 2017)

During this month and into early December, Caring for Denver Foundation will hold several community-wide events to better understand the specific concerns individuals and families are confronting. As part of this effort, Caring for Denver will be hosting events focused on the unique needs of  LGBTQ+ individuals in partnership with Envision:YouOne Coloradoand The Center on Colfax.

The events will be held:

November 25, University of Denver, Sturm Hall 379, from 5:30 p.m.  – 7:30 p.m.

December 4, The Center on Colfax, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. and again 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Space is limited for each of the events. 

According to Envision:You co-founder Steven Haden, “It’s wonderful Caring for Denver Foundation is dedicated to ensuring voices from marginalized communities are heard. We are grateful to the team at the Foundation for their work to address the unique needs of the queer community who face disparities in accessing and receiving care as well as experiencing poor outcomes.”

Will Denver Vote to Fund More Mental Health and Addiction Services?, Daliah Singer, 5280, 10/18/18

House Representative Leslie Herod is asking for the public’s help to address the Mile High City’s dearth of mental health and addiction services. “I see how much the community is hurting. I see our alarming rates of suicide…There are three to four overdoses on the streets of Denver every day,” she says. “We need more help, and we don’t have it right now.”

Currently, the Mile High City doesn’t have the money or the capacity to meet the community’s needs. According to Dr. Carl Clark, president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD), one in five people are dealing with a mental health or addiction issue on a daily basis, and one in four will face one over the course of the year. But, he adds, “only two out of five people are actually getting the help they need.” In part, that’s because they don’t know where to go or how to find a provider, or there aren’t any services nearby that they can access.

Denver voters asked to raise taxes to increase mental health, substance abuse funding, 7 News, 10/14/18
In Denver, one of those issues is being called Caring 4 Denver, which would raise $45 million every year to fund mental health and addiction services for children and adults by adding a 25-cent tax on every $100 in purchases.

On this weekend’s Politics Unplugged, State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, talks to Anne Trujillo about why she supports the initiative and why she thinks it eventually will be adopted by other cities and counties across the state.

Initiated Ordinance 301 — Caring 4 Denver — aims to relieve a mental health system under duress, Kevin Beaty, Denverite, 10/15/18
Initiated Ordinance 301, which appears on Denver’s ballot this year, is one group’s answer. The people behind the initiative marketed as Caring 4 Denver hope it will start moving the city toward improved care for both emergency workers and the people they serve, though even some supporters are skeptical that more money will result in better circumstances.

The measure aims to raise $45 million by adding a quarter-of-a-percent tax on sales – 25 cents on a $100 purchase – that would be pooled for use in mental health services. In the first two years, 20 percent of that money would go into a fund for a new mental health center, then 10 percent of that fund would be earmarked for the facility in following years. Up to five percent could be used for program administration, and the rest could be doled out as grants to any organization needing more mental health support.

Caring 4 Denver: What You Will Be Voting for in November, Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, 9/27/18
In November, Denver voters will weigh whether to pass Herod’s Caring 4 Denver ballot initiative, which would increase the sales tax by .25 percent, or about $45 million annually, to bolsters the city’s existing mental-health and substance-abuse treatment options and fund suicide prevention programs and those targeting the opioid epidemic.

The initiative is also designed to “reduce homelessness, improve long-term recovery, and reduce the use of jails and emergency rooms.” “The largest mental health facilities are jails and prisons,” Herod says. “I think this is the most important issue facing Denver today.”

Denver can and should help those with mental health needs, Leslie Herod & Carl Clark, 10/13/18
Caring 4 Denver will appear at the end of ballots in Denver as Initiated Ordinance 301 and will be a one-quarter-of 1 percent sales and use tax increase (25 cents on a $100-dollar purchase), and raise $45 million per year, to be used for improving the quality, availability, and affordability of community based mental health and addiction care in Denver.

Services that could be supported include counseling, in-patient treatment, school services and prevention programs. The funds will be managed by an independent board of stakeholders in mental health and addiction services.

"Help Denver win its war against the opioid epidemic" -Dr. Rob Valuck & Rep. Leslie Herod, Colorado Politics, 8/31/18
Caring 4 Denver will create a culture of change in our community. We can create a conversation where opioid addiction is destigmatized and help is available for those who need and want it. We have the power to make Denver one of the success stories. We have the power to fight the stigma. We have the power to act. And we have the power to vote to support treatment for opioid addiction and substance abuse.

Caring 4 Denver won’t solve the problem overnight but it will be the single greatest thing Denver has ever done to address the overdose crisis.

"Tax hike for Denver mental health and drug services makes the ballot" -Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, 8/22/18

A request for a 0.25 percent sales tax for mental health services and addiction treatment qualified for the November ballot in Denver Tuesday.

The measure is expected to raise $45 million to improve “the quality, availability and affordability of community-based mental health and addiction care,” said Caring 4 Denver, the group backing the proposal.

"Denver Voters To Decide On A Tax That Will Fund Mental Health, Substance Abuse Care" -John Daley, CPR, 8/23/18
A Denver ballot initiative could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to help people  with mental health and substance disorder issues.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, is spearheading the “Caring 4 Denver” campaign. She said the proposal makes financial sense in that, if it’s passed by voters, it could fund a variety of mental health programs.

The money would come from a one-quarter of 1 percent city sales tax — that’s 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

Caring 4 Denver on Colorado Inside Out, Colorado Public Television, 8/10/18
“This looks like the big winner on the Denver ballot.” -Patricia Calhoun

Patricia Calhoun, Justine Sandoval, Ross Kaminsky, Dave Kopel and host Dominic Dezzutti discuss Caring4Denver on Colorado Public Television – PBS – CPT12’s show “Colorado Inside Out” last Friday.

"Denver Will Vote on Proposed Sales-Tax Increase to Support Mental Health" -Chris Walker, Westword, 8/10/18
The initiative’s sponsors say that the money would address numerous public health and criminal justice crises facing the Denver area, such as extremely high suicide ratesincreasing opioid overdoses, and elevated recidivism rates (cycling in and out) at the city’s jail among those struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorders — which is costly to manage.

Denver is seeing an average of three opioid overdoses a day, and a study released on Wednesday by the University of Colorado Boulder found that one in twenty teens showing serious conduct or substance abuse problems dies by suicide in Colorado before the age of thirty.

"Supporters of a Denver tax proposal raising money for mental health and addiction services drop off signatures" -Esteban L. Hernandez, Denverite, 8/1/18
“People from all walks of life have come together to support mental health and addiction treatment for our friends, family members and neighbors,” Herod said. “We have countless stories of people walking past one of our volunteers until they hear the words ‘mental health & addiction’ and they stop in their tracks and turn around to find out more. We have been thanked over and over for the work we are doing. It is truly inspiring.”
"Community Seeks Tax Hike In Denver For Mental Health And Opioid Crisis" -Alan Gionet, CBS 4 News, 6/14/18
News coverage of the Caring 4 Denver campaign launch.
"‘Feedback: Caring for Denver’ is a vote for mental health" -Brandon Turner, Colorado Politics, 7/12/18
Too many preventative services are simply not available in Denver to people who can’t afford them. Access to this care can help prevent health crises and emergency room visits because people will have support in combating their illnesses, making it less likely they find themselves in an emergency situation.

For too long, Denver has ignored its mental health and substance abuse crisis. Now is the time to start ensuring every Denver resident has the help they need to get healthy. I urge Denver voters to support the Caring for Denver initiative and help our neighbors begin their path to stability.

"Caring for Denver Campaign Kickoff" -Molly Hendrickson, Denver Channel 7, 6/14/18

Representative Leslie Herod discusses the Caring 4 Denver initiative and how it will help people in Denver.

"How a Quarter Can Keep Struggling Non-Criminals in Denver Out of Jail" -Michael Roberts, Westword, 6/14/18
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is also a Caring 4 Denver booster. Herod says the DA understands that “what we’re doing right now doesn’t work and it’s costly; it diverts the attention of law enforcement from other safety needs the community has. But law enforcement’s hands are tied. They have to take action when they see something happening on the street — but if they could move people in crisis to a facility, get them to detox, get them the services they need, they would. Caring 4 Denver will help do that — and it also allows for co-responders, more mental health and substance abuse professionals who can ride along with Denver police when it’s appropriate.”
"Denver Ballot Initiative Aims To Finance Mental Health, Substance Abuse Programs" -John Daley, CPR, 4/5/18
A ballot initiative in Denver could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year to help those with mental health and substance disorder issues.

State lawmaker Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, is spearheading the “Caring 4 Denver” campaign.  She says the proposal makes financial sense because if it’s passed by voters it could fund a variety of mental health programs. The proposal calls for a one-quarter of 1 percent sales tax — that’s 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

"Opinion: Lawmakers should continue to improve mental health care spending in Colorado" -Elizabeth Lochhead, DU Clarion, 4/30/18
Therefore, more funding for mental health and substance abuse services is itself a possible way to spend more efficiently. Yes, this will likely require an increase in sales tax, but taxpayers are already spending for high numbers of emergency room visits. Beyond this, more support for those dealing with mental illness and addiction is important for the well-being of any community. Mental illness affects people of all incomes and circumstances, but it is also of the major causes of homelessness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, and there are over 5,000 homeless people in Denver (this comes from 2017’s Point-in-Time survey, which acknowledges it is a low estimate due to undercounting).
"Denver voters could decide on sales tax for mental health, addiction" -Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, 4/5/18
“I think the most tragic part of it all is that people who know they need help can’t get it,” said Herod, who has worked extensively on the issue in the statehouse. Robert Clark, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, said 1 in 5 people in the city are dealing with a mental health or substance-abuse issue.

“Everybody knows somebody who’s dealing with this problem,” Clark said. “What we want is for the door to be wide-open for anybody to get the help they need.

"Caring4Denver Campaign Aims To Fund Mental Health Programs" -Mark Ackerman, CBS 4 News, 4/5/18
State lawmaker Leslie Herod, a Democrat representing Denver, is appealing directly to City of Denver voters to help people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Standing on the west steps of the state Capitol on Thursday, members of the group Caring4Denver said “we can’t rely on Washington” or Colorado lawmakers to fix this problem.

"Proposed Sales Tax Would Fund Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment" -Ana Campbell, Westword, 4/5/18
Resources to treat mental-health issues and substance abuse are woefully limited in Colorado.

One in every ten residents lives in a place with little or no access to medication-assisted substance-abuse treatment, while across the state, communities both rural and urban struggle with an ever-expanding opioid epidemic. Treatment for mental-health issues is so scarce, more patients in Colorado must go out of network to find doctors than do patients in most other states. And last year, Arapahoe House, the state’s largest drug-and-alcohol treatment center, closed after more than forty years.

"Denver sales tax hike would raise millions for mental health care, substance abuse treatment" -Jesse Paul, Denver Post, 4/5/18

Backers of the effort, including Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, the Mental Health Center of Denver and Mental Health Colorado, say it’s a necessary step to create a sustainable way to help struggling people in Denver and identify ways to promote well-being. The group says polling has shown that Denverites would overwhelmingly support such a sales tax increase.

"Group Petitions For Sales Tax Increase To Solve City Problems" -CBS 4 Denver, 4/4/18
Mental health, substance abuse and affordable housing groups have said for years that resources in Denver are limited. A group called Caring for Denver wants that to change. They are proposing raising the sales tax to pay for such services. The tax increase would amount to approximately 25 cents on a $100 purchase and could mean $45 million every year for those programs.
"Denver tax proposal would raise $45 million per year for mental health, housing, addiction" -Andrew Kenney, Denverite, 4/5/18
The Mental Health Center of Denver is partnering with state Rep. Leslie Herod to campaign for a half-billion dollars of new spending on mental health, addiction services and housing over the next decade.

They want local voters to decide whether to raise city sales taxes by 25 cents per $100 of spending on restaurant meals, consumer goods and more. The hike is expected to generate about $45 million in its first year.

New Youth funding opportunity! Applications are due December 17. Click here to view the Call for Proposals.

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