On a late spring day in June, Englewood police Sgt. Reid McGrath described a call about a woman who said she was hearing voices — a scenario he said is not unusual for police interactions with …
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Colorado Community Media's ongoing series, “No Place to Call Home,” explores the reasons behind the rise in homelessness in Englewood and the response from various parts of the community, from businesses and city government to nonprofits, the faith community and schools.
For part 1 and the rest of part 2 of the series, which explores the relationship between the homeless, law enforcement and other public institutions, click here.
On a late spring day in June, Englewood police Sgt. Reid McGrath described a call about a woman who said she was hearing voices — a scenario he said is not unusual for police interactions with people who appear to be homeless.
“Among the homeless, we’re more likely to deal with substance abuse and serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia — very debilitating,” McGrath said.
Englewood city officials have pointed to rising housing costs in the Denver metro area as a likely cause for an increased homeless population in Englewood. But housing isn’t the only concern.
“The No. 1 priority for people to move out of homelessness is access to substance-abuse and mental health treatment resources,” said McGrath, whose police department recently added a new position to help overcome those obstacles.
Generally, whether people abuse substances before or after ending up homeless is unclear, McGrath said. “I think you could certainly find people who before they became homeless were (addicted), but a great number of them” afterward.
MORE: Swedish Medical Center sees slight increase in homeless patients
“If I was homeless suddenly, I might find myself using substances to cope more,” McGrath said. But that substance abuse or mental health issue “prevents them from being able to successfully navigate the system and the process of getting out of homelessness.”
That’s why in June, Englewood police added a mental health co-responder to the department.
Emilie Van haecke, a counselor with AllHealth Network, which provides behavioral-health services and has locations in Littleton and elsewhere in the south-metro area, rides along with officers, making contact with individuals who may face health issues. She can provide assistance if someone needs a mental health hospitalization — if they’re a danger to themselves or others or are disabled — or other help, she said.
“We’re really flexible with getting people connected to financial resources and insurance,” said Van haecke, who works with Englewood officers two days per week and also works with Littleton police.
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Van haecke also can refer those in need to a mental health center or crisis center, options that make mental-health care more accessible than in an emergency room, McGrath said.
The co-responder approach brings help to those who need it the most and who also may have the most barriers to receiving treatment, Van haecke said. Engaging people about their lives helps open that door, and she’s been “blown away” by their willingness to share their stories.
“Those experiencing homelessness also have a high rate of past traumas in their life — thus, a lot of reasons not to trust,” Van haecke said. “So those times when individuals have been vulnerable and opened up to the officers and myself, it has felt very meaningful.”
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