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News

HEART makes a difference for those experiencing homelessness in Douglas County

Unsheltered homelessness reduced by 36% during first year of HEART

Posted on October 16, 2023 2023Homeless InitiativeNews and Events

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Photo caption: Douglas County Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team (HEART) assisting a young man who is unhoused in Douglas County.

The number of people who are unsheltered in your County is down 36% over the last year. Why? Because of your compassion and the compassion of a new co-response team called HEART.

The official 2023 Point in Time data released in July, indicates the number of people living unsheltered in Douglas County was reduced, one of two County’s in the metro area whose homeless population was reduced over the previous year.

Douglas County Commissioner and Board Chair Abe Laydon and Sheriff Darren Weekly attribute this reduction to the efforts of the County’s Homeless Engagement, Assistance, and Resource Team (HEART), the County’s new co-response model focused on helping people experiencing homelessness in Douglas County, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month.

During their first year, the HEART received more than 1,400 referrals from law enforcement, citizens, or partner agencies. Of those, more than half of the people approached by the HEART engaged in some way, and more than 200 people received resources for employment, food, housing, mental health, or other services. One in four were able to obtain housing. Read more in the HEART Impact Report.

“We know that our reduction in the homeless population in Douglas County is due to the impact of your generosity through our Handouts Don’t Help anti-panhandling campaign, and HEART, our co-response team of a social services navigator and a law enforcement officer who are focused on directly engaging those experiencing homelessness here,” said Commissioner Laydon. “Our approach is working. When we encourage our residents not to give unsafely at intersections and empower HEART to engage directly with those who are homeless and not service resistant, people who need help get the help they need.”

“Homelessness is an issue that affects many people in our community,” said Sheriff Weekly. “It is important for law enforcement to be involved in finding solutions that will help those facing homelessness while keeping our communities safe.”

Every year, Douglas County participates with six other counties and the City of Aurora to provide Point in Time data to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. In 2023, the count was taken on Jan. 30.

According to the final report released in July, there were 72 unhoused individuals living in Douglas County on the night of Jan. 3o. Of those, 40 people were unsheltered and 32 were in temporary or emergency housing. A change in methodology by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative in 2023 resulted in 11 individuals being counted in 2023 that would not have been included in 2022. When adjusting for this change in methodology, Douglas County experienced a 36% reduction in unsheltered homelessness compared to 2022.

HEART navigators are subject matter experts, often with experience in behavioral and mental health or case management. They proactively and directly interact with those experiencing homelessness in a compassionate way. They gather information on needs, assess vulnerability, provide complete case management, and make referrals to appropriate community services.

Partnered with law enforcement, this co-response model helps ensure people experiencing homelessness do not end up in emergency rooms or jail, but rather are directed to community services.

Learn more about the Douglas County Homeless Initiative online and sign up for email updates.

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