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City agencies respond to homelessness crisis at airport

After 9NEWS revealed police contacts with the unsheltered tripled at the airport over the last several years, two city agencies said they’re focusing on help.

DENVER — As Denver police deal with the challenge of what to do with people who seek shelter at the airport and refuse to leave, two city agencies told 9NEWS they’re focusing on help. 

Analysis of airport arrest data over the last three years showed some people experiencing homelessness have been in a cycle of arrests. Most people leave with a warning and a small fraction are arrested, however, 9Wants to Know documented 30 people who’ve been repeatedly arrested for trespassing.

Denver's Department of Housing Stability (HOST) and Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program said they’re looking at ways to help remove the burden from police who’ve been encountering people seeking warmth and refuge at the airport. 

“We really need to build up the STAR bandwidth so that we're able to respond there when we're needed,” said Carleigh Sailon, who helps manage the STAR program. 

Instead of police responding to some 911 calls, STAR clinicians have been responding to emergencies involving nonviolent people experiencing mental health crises and who may be in a chronic state of homelessness. 

The trained clinicians, who dress like civilians, aim to get people immediate services in an effort to avoid trips to jail. The program has been in effect since the summer of 2020. 

Homeless advocacy groups and police have lauded the STAR program’s initial launch as successful. There are efforts underway to expand the program with more vans and clinicians in 2022. 

Sailon said her agency is working on plans to include the airport in its response area to help people who have repeatedly refused services, possibly by this spring. 

“Sometimes it just takes a couple tries, and they'll know who to call and they'll know who they can count on when they are ready to take a step in the direction of change,” Sailon said. 

HOST said it’s also reviewing activity at the airport in an effort to figure out a better way to respond to people experiencing homelessness.  

“We know this cycle of catching a train to the airport at night is not sustainable. That's not where people want to be long-term. We know that when people are offered opportunities for housing supports, they take them and they thrive,” said Angie Nelson, a deputy director of HOST. 

If you would like to share any more info about this story or have any other news tips, email Jeremy@9news.com.

RELATED: Homelessness crisis lands at Denver airport, prompting cycle of arrests

RELATED: Denver to expand program that sends mental health professionals to 911 calls

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