Denver moves homeless complaints from 311 to Pocketgov

In an effort to remove law enforcement officers from non-criminal cases, the city of Denver began in March redirecting all calls related to homeless camps through 311, a telephone hotline set up in 2006 to handle non-emergency residents of Denver.

The city had received about thirty calls a day in connection with homeless camps, many of which were served by the Denver Police Department; officials believed the switch to 311 would be more efficient. But it did not go smoothly.

“We saw about 100 or so [calls] one day during that period, “Laura Dunwoody, director of urban services at 311, recalled November 15 Denver City Council Budget and Policy Committee meeting. “The problem was that we could not help them. So we increased the frustration. We were not part of the solution.

“It made my average answer speeds go up,” she added, “not because the volume was so high, but because the length of the calls was much higher than my normal three-minute call. We had an average of eight to twelve minutes. on these calls. ”

So in July, Denver City began forwarding people calling 311 with homeless complaints pocketgov, an existing online system where residents can complain about everything from illegal dumping to fireworks.

As a result, pocketgov receives somewhere between 100 and 130 complaints about homeless camps every day, while 311 receives only a handful of calls related to homelessness, according to Dunwoody.

From pocketgov, all camp complaints are sent to the staff of the Early Intervention Team, a unit set up last fall to provide outreach and services to budding homeless camps with the aim of preventing them from growing larger. The EIT first worked out Department of Public Safety, then moved to Department of Public Health and the Environment; it will soon land on Department of Housing Stability.

“We wanted to step out of the way,” Dunwoody said, explaining why 311 operators were removed from the process. The calls her staff had received about camps involved “a level of excitement and enthusiasm that we were not used to seeing,” she added, using a polite description of the angry calls.

In June alone, 311 3,500 received calls related to homelessness – thanks in part to a single “person who made 500 or so calls at a camp he was dealing with,” according to Armando Saldate of the Department of Public Safety, who oversaw establishment of early response team.

During the committee meeting on November 15 councilor Kendra Black described the frustration felt by many Denver residents who complain about camps with this: “There’s this circular thing: ‘It’s not my responsibility, it’s her responsibility.’ And she will say, ‘It is not my responsibility, it is her responsibility.’ And then nothing is done, and that is when you get the really angry calls, because 500 people have called about one thing, and a year later, it is sitting there.

For years, the city of Denver has struggled with how to deal with homeless camps, with lawyers and service providers claiming that Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration acts too harshly on homeless people without protection, while some residents and business owners claim the city’s actions are not strong. . enough.

Denver is currently required by a federal court settlement and a federal court order to give one week’s notice before sweeping camps.

While the early intervention team cannot issue citations, the city is also putting together a street enforcement team that will be composed of civilian employees authorized to enforce laws often associated with homelessness, such as intrusion and unauthorized camping; it will be placed in the Department of Public Safety. That team is scheduled to begin its patrols this month.

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