Westminster reviews homeless encampment response

New policy includes mental health and homeless service advisors

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After six months of work, Westminster presented their homeless encampment protocols at the Sept. 19 City Council study session. 

Penning it as their Continuum of Compassion, city staff provided the city council with a step-by-step process detailing how the city will handle the encampments across the city.

The plan includes a mental health navigator program and homeless navigator program and spells out how they would respond to camps on private property, city open space and city parks, fields and structures.

The move comes after the City Council asked for the city to come up with a plan on March 21. As well, the encampments took up much deliberation at Westminster’s inaugural town hall on March 31. 

Mary Livesay, a Westminster resident, complained about the encampments at the town hall. She explained how she lives in close proximity to acres of open space where she sees encampments setting bonfires. Every night, she and her husband, both 80 years old, can’t sleep because one must take watch. 

Livesay held a bouquet of dead grass and flowers from the open space near her house.

“Take a look at this,” she said. “One match and our house is gone.”

The Continuum of Compassion 

Parks, Recreation and Libraries Director Tomás Herrera-Mishler, Deputy Police Chief Dean Villano and Parks, Recreation and Libraries Manager Lance Johnson presented on the topic on Sept. 19.

The continuum consists of two services and a flow chart of three different scenarios of encampments on different types of property.

The mental health co-responder program is one service. It includes four and a half staff positions, which are three co-responders, one case manager and a part-time supervisor. The co-responders go on calls with the police department to help de-escalate situations. 

This in turn can help deter at-risk individuals from entering the criminal justice system by stabilizing them and is available to both the housed and unhoused communities. Once the situation has settled down, the co-responder may assist with providing resources for behavioral health and/or substance abuse. 

Within the same realm is the homeless navigator program. This service provides two homeless navigators who help those unhoused find housing if they are willing. They also direct people to resources. 

The homeless navigators generally spend between five to ten hours each week going to the encampments to provide case management services, which may include benefit assistance, acquiring identification documents, health referrals and housing assistance. 

Three categories 

Residents can report homeless encampments or concerns regarding people experiencing homelessness to the Westminster Police Department. 

Once reported, the city then determines what type of land the encampment is on. 

For private property, WPD will issue code enforcement actions. If there are environmental hazards, police will begin steps to ease and resolve the problem. Private property owners, Villano explained, must be willing to work with the police department to address it. 

For city-owned property other than parks, recreation and library buildings, offenders will be given a trespass notice. 

If an encampment is on city parks, recreation or library property, homeless navigators take the lead and will work with the people on-site to determine the next steps. However, if the individuals refuse service, then park rangers take over and will issue a trespass notice.

For recreation vehicles, they will be given 24-hour notice to vacate. 

Rising costs

Cottonwood Village at 88th and Federal proves to be a continuing problem for the encampments. Herrera-Mishler said that environmental hazards there include human waste and drug paraphernalia. 

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on 88th,” said Herrera-Mishler.

Villano said that the new protocol will help those experiencing homelessness to access programs that will help them. 

“When we started this venture, if someone asked me if there were going to be a lot of people thrown into the criminal justice system, I would have said yes. At this point, it’s been pretty remarkable how few have really had to do that,” said Villano. 

Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott asked if the number of people experiencing homelessness is increasing, and Johnson said he doesn’t think so, however, there is also an element of where those people are moving along to. 

City Councilor Bruce Baker asked if progress has been made, and Villano confirmed. 

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