In 2021, I tuned into a mental health summit where Dr. Robert Werthwein, the former director of the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, talked about the good things Douglas County is doing on the issue. One of the reasons, he said, is because the county invested the time and money to not only create a plan but to recruit other agencies and organizations to get on board.
He stressed that in doing this, Douglas County’s mental health program works because everyone is rowing in the same direction. That means police, government, nonprofits and many others. He stressed that to fix the state’s mental health crisis, a lot of groups and people are going to have to start rowing in the same direction.
Using his example, I can’t help but think this thought process applies to many other issues we are facing in the Denver metro area, the state and the nation. Coming to mind right now is the ongoing topics around homelessness.
While some cities and groups are doing great work and holding great discussion, I wouldn’t say there is enough rowing in the same direction to make a difference.
In Arapahoe County the work of many deserves some credit. The cities of Sheridan, Littleton and Englewood are doing some good things. They have created the tri-city partnership that is aimed at addressing homelessness. Centennial is also joining in on the conversations.
In Douglas County, U.S. Rep. Jason Crow is working to create some facilities aimed at helping the homeless population.
Additionally, I was impressed with Littleton’s Bemis Library in taking a stance that accepting the homeless is a lot more beneficial to the community than just rejecting this population of people who still deserve help.
What Arapahoe County is doing is important because they are starting to at least get the boat going the same direction. Now, it’s all about getting the rowers on the same page.
What they are doing means they are not going with the “not in my back yard” mentality. As a note, I hate the NIMBY attitude. Bottom line, the homeless issue is in all of our backyards and trying to ignore it or hope another city has to deal with it does nothing to fix the problem.
The entire Denver metro area has to start looking at this problem and looking at true answers. Passing camping bans sporadically is not going to suddenly stop the problem. In fact, I doubt it really can be enforced.
With the housing crisis hitting our state, with the continued lasting effects of the pandemic and with inflation soaring, homelessness is prevalent. The problem is front and center.
Communities, just like with mental health, have to start addressing the problem together. They have to start rowing in the same direction.
We have to start rowing in the same direction to create true change and get rid of the NIMBY mentality too many community leaders are taking.
Thelma Grimes is the south metro editor for Colorado Community Media.
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