Multiple members of Centennial City Council expressed support for developing a new homelessness coordinator position with Arapahoe County during the June 6 regular meeting.
Patrick Fleming, a management analyst for the City of Centennial, presented recommendations city staff have for the homelessness coordinator position, after city council requested more information during its May 16 meeting.
“We view this position as someone that provides services to individuals and families that are homeless or at imminent risk of being homeless,” Fleming said, adding this position would have different responsibilities from, and will be more proactive than, the housing and homelessness navigators that Arapahoe County currently has.
Centennial has seen a visible increase in the number of homeless encampments and individuals, Fleming said, and Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office has received more than 250 camping ban complaints in the city since June 2020.
As of January 2020, an estimated 9,846 people in Colorado were experiencing homelessness on any given day, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. From 2020 to 2021, the number of people experiencing homelessness throughout Arapahoe County more than doubled, according to Arapahoe County’s Homeless Coordinating Committee.
The leading causes of homelessness in Colorado are a lack of affordable housing, health challenges and systemic inequities, according to a September 2021 report by the Division of Housing in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
“We envision this position providing support to homeless families and individuals by serving as a liaison for the city to coordinate partnerships between agencies and other organizations providing services within the city,” Fleming said.
The coordinator will contact homeless individuals in the field and, depending on the situation, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office may need to accompany the coordinator to ensure safety, Fleming said.
"The goal, though, would not be to criminalize anyone, it will just be to connect them directly to services and resources as best possible,” he said.
The homelessness coordinator would be an Arapahoe County employee, and the coordinator's work would be directed under the county, Fleming said. Arapahoe County, he said, is supportive of the position and interested in moving forward.
The estimated cost of the position would be up to $150,000 annually, including salary, benefits, equipment and a vehicle, Fleming said. Funding would come from the city. City staff recommend a three-year trial period for the position, beginning either this year or next year.
If the position was to start this year, Fleming said, a budget amendment would be required.
“I would like the position to start as soon as possible,” Mayor Stephanie Piko said after Fleming’s presentation. “I would be OK with a budget amendment.”
Councilmembers Marlo Alston and Don Sheehan, Christine Sweetland, Candace Moon and Robyn Carnes also expressed support for creating the position, with many saying they want it to be created sooner rather than later.
Offering recommendations for the position, Moon said she wants the coordinator to help connect people with mental health support and services. Additionally, if drugs or alcohol are involved in the situation, she would like for referrals for drug counseling, alcohol treatment and other services to be given.
“For a person to lose their home and have to shelter without housing is a very traumatic experience," Moon said. "So many times there are underlying conditions in addition to just being without shelter."
Other recommendations city council members offered to Fleming for the position included ensuring that city council would be able to review the progress of the coordinator, as well as making sure the coordinator be in contact with city partners such as Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Arapahoe Park and Recreation District and Arapahoe Libraries.
District 2 Councilmember Tammy Maurer raised a question about how effective the position may be in enacting change. Maurer said she recently spoke with someone who works at Arapahoe Libraries who was unsure whether or not the library’s outreach efforts with homeless people were effective.
“Is there some success rate, that you, when you do reach out, that you’re being able to actually give something to these people that makes a difference for them, other than just talking to them and handing them a brochure?” Maurer asked.
Fleming said, “We will be measuring that, as far as how effective this person has been at those contacts. [It's] hard to say whether it will be effective in getting them to services, but at least we're making the effort."
Contributing to the conversation, Piko said she knows there are a lot of services in Centennial brought by nonprofits and the faith community that perhaps Arapahoe Libraries is unaware of, and the new homelessness coordinator could help build those connections between the government services and outside services.
“That’s my goal, with trying to make this very Centennial-centric,” Piko said. “It’s about what’s offered within our own community.”
One of Piko’s goals for the position, in addition to helping those facing or experiencing homelessness, is for Centennial residents to learn about the variety of resources and services available in the city.
“I think there’s a lot of people that toss their hands up in the air and think nobody's doing anything, and there's a lot of people doing a lot. And it's just a question of making sure that people become aware of it,” she said. “Thank you all for supporting it. I appreciate it.”
The next steps for creating the position include city staff working with Arapahoe County to draft an intergovernmental agreement that would formalize the homelessness coordinator position, and staff will return to council with the agreement and a supplemental budget appropriation for approval.