LINCOLN–(News Release Aug. 17)–Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird today announced the launch of the Alternate Response Program, a partnership between the Lincoln Police Department (LPD) and CenterPointe to respond to calls for service involving people experiencing homelessness.

“As evidence of the City’s commitment to an effective, compassionate, solution-oriented response to calls for service involving people experiencing homelessness, LPD has innovated and developed the Alternate Response Program, a new approach in partnership with CenterPointe,” Mayor Gaylor Baird said.

The Alternate Response Program allows Lincoln’s Emergency Communications Center dispatchers to determine the appropriate level of response when handling calls regarding unsheltered individuals. In cases where unsheltered residents do not need medical attention and are not violating laws, members of the CenterPointe Street Outreach Team will be deployed, instead of LPD officers or emergency medical technicians. Outreach staff would then ensure the individuals have their basic needs met and connect them with homeless outreach services.

Dispatchers have now been trained to ask a series of questions to determine whether a call requires the outreach team or other immediate emergency services. LPD officers will continue to be available to respond if CenterPointe staff is not able to respond within 20 minutes. Previously, two LPD officers would respond to calls regarding unsheltered residents.

Joining Mayor Gaylor Baird at the news conference were LPD Chief Michon Morrow, LPD Homeless Coordinator Melissa Ripley, CenterPointe President Topher Hansen, CenterPointe Homeless Outreach Coordinator Matt Martinosky, and Downtown Lincoln Association President and CEO Todd Ogden.

Chief Morrow said that the new program uses LPD resources more efficiently by diverting appropriate calls to the Outreach team.

“By redirecting these calls for service to the community partners who can best address the human services needs of unsheltered individuals, our LPD officers have more time to focus on calls requiring law enforcement,” Morrow said.

The program also allows for a more compassionate interaction with one of Lincoln’s vulnerable populations, Ripley said.

“Often, those experiencing homelessness also experience a stigma and shame associated with being unsheltered. Having uniformed police officers contact you repeatedly, when you’re not doing anything illegal, can contribute to that shame and stigma,” Ripley said. “This new approach creates a more dignified response and is much less dehumanizing way to contact people and still accomplish the same outcome.”

Ripley said that work to create the program began in January. The City’s Urban Development Department granted nearly $200,000 to CenterPointe to fund two full-time and three part-time staff, training, and administrative costs.

Martinosky said the new program is the result of years of collaboration between the City and CenterPointe devoted to building relationships with community members who need support.

“This new alternate response gives both CenterPointe and LPD the opportunity to react more appropriately and compassionately to concerns regarding the unsheltered, while helping to decriminalize homelessness and allowing Outreach to stay in constant contact with the people we are working with so that they aren’t missing out on opportunities they may be given,” Martinosky said.

According to 2023 Point-In-Time Count by the Lincoln Homeless Coalition, there were 418 individuals experiencing homelessness in Lincoln. The count is a tally of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night, typically taken every January. Lincoln’s total homeless population decreased 57% between 2007 and 2022. City officials said that they are investing in multiple strategies to provide solutions for community members experiencing homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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