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DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A new homeless outreach program in Douglas County employs caseworkers to help connect unhoused people with resources instead of sending a police response.

The Homeless Engagement, Assistance and Resource Team — HEART for short — has three of what the county calls “navigators” who pair with law enforcement on calls.

“This team prevents the need for law enforcement to respond to calls where no law nor code violation is occurring and strengthens the system of support for those experiencing homelessness,” the county said of HEART.

Making homelessness ‘rare, brief and infrequent’

The county said these navigators “often” have experience in behavioral and mental health or case management and work to connect the people they contact to housing and help.

“This community approach helps ensure people experiencing homelessness do not end up in emergency rooms or jail, but rather are directed to community services. Our goal is that each individual’s experience with homelessness becomes rare, brief and infrequent,” the county said.

Douglas County will install signs throughout the county to encourage the public to contact HEART when they see someone who may need help, rather than giving them direct cash, FOX31’s Alex Rose reported. About 50 referrals have already been received in the last two weeks.

The public can contact HEART at 303-660-7301 or submit a referral form online.

Co-responder programs grow in the Denver metro

HEART is the latest example of a program that works to divert police from some calls — and to divert some people from hospitals and holding cells.

Denver’s Support Team Assistance Response program, or STAR, has been found to reduce low-level crime reports and the cost of responding to certain calls. In its first year, the program responded to 1,400 calls that led to zero arrests, no injuries and no need for police backup. The city has since expanded STAR.

Police in Englewood have had a co-responder program for several years but recently modified their program to route some 911 calls to crisis responders. Aurora also established a pilot mental health response program, but the city recently said it does not currently have clinicians on staff.