DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Douglas County has a lot of things but doesn’t have much in the way of services for people experiencing homelessness.
As the mostly suburban county sees more unhoused people coming there, the sheriff’s office is starting a new program to take them back to places like Denver.
"There’s literally no services for them to turn to here," said Republican Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock. "If they have resources in Denver, we want to get them there. We want to help get them there."
Spurlock is appointing what he calls a new reintegration deputy, a deputy that will take people experiencing homelessness and connect them with services outside Douglas County.
"We don’t just put them on a bus, or we just don’t drive them to the city limits and boot them off," said Spurlock. "We actually have a plan and work with the services in Denver. We’re not going to take someone up there if they don’t have resources."
Spurlock says about 10-15% of people in his jail are homeless. When they’re released, they have nowhere to go. Douglas County doesn’t have much public transportation.
The plan will connect people with resources in Denver as deputies transport them there.
"We can get you to a place where you have resources," said Spurlock. "And if we can do that, we believe that we can then reduce those numbers of both homelessness and the people who are reoccurring visits to our jail."
It’s not just a Douglas County problem. Cathy Alderman with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said people experiencing homelessness are being pushed to the suburbs. Instead of sending them back to the cities, she’s advocating that places like Douglas County create more services.
"As we see more enforcement of camping bans, in a lot of areas like Denver and now Aurora, we are pushing people further and further away form the concentration of services," said Alderman. "There are many areas that don’t have services like shelters or food banks or community meal stations. That’s not to say that they couldn’t. Rather than focusing on shifting people to where services are, we need to meet people in the communities in which they live."
Douglas County commissioners recently voted to move forward with purchasing what they call pallet shelters to provide a safe place for people to sleep instead of being out on the streets. After getting an earful from unhappy community members, commissioners decided to put that plan on hold.
Neighbors worried it would attract more people who are homeless to the area.
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