Denver Expands STAR Program, Resources For Mental Health

DENVER (CBS4) – People in Denver experiencing a mental health crisis will soon have more help. Denver City Council voted to expand the Support Teams Assisted Response (STAR) program, allowing resources such as additional behavioral health professionals to engage with homelessness and substance abuse .

The STAR program was created in 2020 as an alternative option for a mental health professional and paramedic to respond to low-level calls instead of a police officer.

(credit: CBS)

Since then, STAR has responded to nearly 2,800 calls. Police backup has never been necessary during any of those calls for a security issue. The resolution approves a contract with the Denver Mental Health Center for $1,391,579 through the end of 2022.

Councilmember Robin Kniech says it minimizes “unnecessary arrests and costs.”

“This contract is important because it is the first time that our health department, experts in people who are experiencing mental health crises and need medical attention, has presented it,” Kniech said. “It’s the right agency running it and they’re doing it in partnership with others, but it belongs to the community. This program was born out of community advocates, parents, caregivers, and people who wanted to see us do something different.”

Denver Department of Public Health and Environment STAR operations manager Carleigh Sailon says STAR has three units running constantly, covering seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. They are working to reach 10 teams and six trucks.

“One of the things I can’t stand to hear is ‘I called STAR and didn’t get a response from STAR.’ We are still increasing capacity. Our goal is for every STAR eligible call in the city to receive a STAR response and receive the correct response when one of our community members is in crisis. Any additional funding for additional units and additional employees will absolutely help meet that need,” Sailon said.

(credit: CBS)

While many of the calls help Denver’s homeless community, Sailon says STAR responds to a wide range of people.

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“We are responding to people at home who were dealing with depression and anxiety due to the COVID pandemic, people visiting Denver who were in crisis during their trip,” Sailon said.

Kyle Fischler, associate director of homeless resolution at the Denver Rescue Mission, says he has seen the impact of STAR firsthand.

“The problems we are facing are very difficult. The fact that we have STARs that can help connect people to larger services and not come back breaks the cycle,” Fischler said.

“The STAR Program addresses more systemic issues that arise in the community. This is not just giving someone food and doing something charitable. It’s responding to bigger problems.”

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