Douglas County Homeless Initiative and the four C’s
Historically, Douglas County has seen a low percentage of homelessness. With housing insecurity on the rise, no full-time shelters and little services available that larger cities already have in place, Douglas County created the Douglas County Homeless Initiative (DCHI).
County Commissioner and chairman of the DCHI board, Abe Laydon, said the goal of the initiative is to “reduce our count to functional zero, reclaim our public spaces, and ensure public safety while offering effective, wraparound services toward self-reliance for the willing.”
The DCHI takes a holistic approach to homelessness and partners with faith groups, law enforcement, human services, citizens and elected officials. The mission is centered around supporting individuals with wraparound support through the four Cs – Compassion, Code Enforcement, Community Services and Communications.
Compassion: The Homeless Engagement, Assistance & Resource Team (HEART) was created earlier this year (see related story page 5). Citizen navigators partner with law enforcement peace officers to contact homeless individuals, typically in response to calls from residents. Navigators are experts in behavioral or mental health case management. The HEART team gathers information on needs, assesses vulnerability, provides case management and makes referrals to appropriate community services.
Code Enforcement: Homelessness is not a crime, and individuals cannot be incarcerated for being unhoused. However, code enforcement does take place when illegal activities such as littering, vandalism, traffic impediment, child safety risks or camping restriction violations are reported. By law, Douglas County is required to have dedicated sheltering services for unhoused individuals to fully implement code enforcement.
Community Services: Simply providing housing is not enough for the DCHI. “Our system of support reflects a continuum of care that addresses not only basic needs such as food and shelter, but job counseling, mental health support, substance abuse treatment and to foster independence/self-reliance through opportunities for productive reintegration into society,” stated Laydon.
Douglas County currently partners with Arapahoe County’s GOALS (Generational Opportunities to Achieve Long-term Success) to help families not only get back on their feet, but to empower them to become self-reliant and develop long-term stability goals.
Communication: The DCHI communicates with citizens in a variety of ways via email, public service announcements, YouTube videos, and most recently a municipal “Handouts Don’t Help” signage campaign to educate the community about alternative options for helping panhandlers. DCHI suggests donating to the Douglas County Community Foundation (DCCF) instead of handing cash out of car windows or to individuals in medians or parking lots. DCCF works with and vets local nonprofits, connecting resources and leveraging contribution dollars for maximum impact.
According to the Douglas County website, the DCHI aims to avoid becoming a “victim of its own compassion.” Finding a balance within the complexities of homelessness to give essential human care and also provide services that empower the individual is paramount for everyone involved with the initiative.
The group is optimistic about the systems already in place to help those with housing insecurity, and it is hopeful that the DCHI scope will only increase and build momentum in the future.
For more information, visit www.douglas.co.us/homeless-initiative/ or call the HEART team at 303-660-7301. To make a financial contribution, visit dccf.org.
By Celeste McNeil