This week I saw a clean-up and enforcement project that did it different. As SafeGrowth suggests, it demonstrates the importance of a rigorous collaborative process. Yesterday that project won the 2010 award for excellence in problem-solving at the International Problem-Oriented Policing Conference in Dallas. It is the Colorado Springs Police Department Homelessness Outreach program.
A year ago I described that one fallout of the Great Recession was the exploding number of homeless in squatter settlements like Tent Cities. I described an interesting innovation in Portland called Liberty Village.
Like many cities, hundreds of homeless people were squatting in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in Colorado Springs. Life in makeshift tents (or in nothing at all) is a miserable experience; there are no provisions, sewage, water, nor protection from the elements. Not to mention the danger from crime.
Police tried clean-ups, arrest and removal of abandoned property. When they were criticized for civil rights violations, they stopped. Then the sanitation problem worsened with piles of litter, garbage and human waste. At that point over 500 people were living in a homeless tent city.
The police formed a special team to apply problem-oriented policing. The key, they say, was collaborating with numerous groups. They spoke to a hundred homeless people to discover their needs.
ANALYSIS - DOING THEIR HOMEWORK
They examined programs across the country and researched new laws. They analyzed and mapped the scope of their problem and found a majority of related calls for police service clustered around the homeless camps. In other research conducted on the local homeless they discovered 21% had severe mental illnesses and another 23% suffered substance abuse.
Their homework paid off. When clean-ups took place, they happened in the context of a much more rigorous collaborative process. What did they do?
• They created referral programs to mental health agencies, alcohol treatment programs, shelters, and jobs programs.
• They connected homeless people with family and obtained funding to reunite them.
• They worked with civil rights groups to draft an ordinance prohibiting camping on public property when social strategies failed.
• They met weekly with homeless, service providers, civil rights leaders, and homeless advocates.
In their report they say the team has worked with "nine shelter agencies, 11 food providers, 6 mental health care providers, and a number of other agencies providing medial treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, clothing and other services."
Over the past year there have been only 29 felony arrests and about 80 minor arrests. Concurrently, of 500 people living in tents, 229 families have been sheltered in better living arrangements, 117 people were reunited with family, 100 people were successful finding jobs, and 40 clean-ups of camps around Colorado Springs were completed.
I've mentioned before the problem of displacement. Because they were able to help with social service referrals and family reunifications, they managed to minimize displacement
Incidents and problems have diminished and police related calls for service have declined.
Congratulations to the Colorado Springs community and it's police department.