Denver’s STAR program gets tentative $1 million to expand with more vans, longer hours

The program also applied for an additional $1.4 million, from the Caring 4 Denver fund.


by: Esteban L. Hernandez

Denver's STAR van drives past the Denver Rescue MIssion at Park Avenue and Lawrence Street. Feb. 12, 2021.
Denver’s STAR van drives past the Denver Rescue MIssion at Park Avenue and Lawrence Street. Feb. 12, 2021.

Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response program — the one that sends mental health professionals instead of cops to certain calls — could get $1 million in additional money to help it expand citywide.

A City Council committee voted Tuesday to forward the funding request to the full council, which will get the final say on whether to use the money for the program, also known as STAR.

The $1 million would be combined with $1.4 million the program got from the city’s 2021 budget, city budget and management director Stephanie Adams said during Tuesday’s committee meeting. The money considered on Tuesday is coming from the city’s contingency fund, which is money Denver sets aside for unexpected expenses. The program was originally funded by the Caring 4 Denver fund.

Emily Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees STAR, confirmed the department has applied to get $1.4 million for the program from Caring 4 Denver, potentially bringing the program’s total funding to $3.8 million.

STAR responded to 748 incidents during its first six months, resulting in no arrests or jail time. STAR employees get called to incidents like trespassing and mental health episodes.

The potential new funding sources would help expand the program to six teams, including four vans, and allow the program to operate seven days a week instead of five. The money would also allow STAR to operate 16 hours a day and expand citywide, with a focus on northeast, southwest and downtown Denver. It had previously only served certain high-demand neighborhoods, with a single van.

STAR is under the purview of the Department of Public Health and Environment, after starting out under the supervision of the Denver Police Department. A progress report released in February showed the program had been largely successful during its first six months.

But some advocates say they are concerned with how the city is managing the program, which launched June 1, 2020, as protests against racism and police violence erupted locally and around the country. Vinnie Cervantes, who runs Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, an organization that advocated to establish STAR, joined critics in April in arguing the program wasn’t equitable or community-driven as was intended.