Representative Leslie Herod is running to be the next mayor of Denver. But this article is not about that. Our monthly “Making a Difference” column is dedicated to Representative Herod because, regardless of the outcome of the election, we believe she deserves a little attention for the work she has done on and off the clock.
Representative Herod, like so many of us, had seen first-hand the many failings of our mental health system in this country. Having a close relative who struggled with addiction, substance abuse, and mental health for much of her life, Herod often felt helpless. She watched as the cycle of incarceration and addiction took a toll on her family. Always inclined toward action, she decided to do something in hopes of making this struggle a little easier for others in the same situation.
In 2018, Herod launched and ran a successful ballot initiative to create a 25-cent tax on every 100 dollars spent in Denver to address mental health and substance misuse needs in the city. The result of this effort was the Caring for Denver Foundation, a long-term investment to build a stronger and healthier community.
Caring for Denver Foundation has distributed $83 million to 188 organizations over the last two years. A sampling of grantees includes CHOW (Culinary Hospitality Outreach and Wellness), a peer-led organization of restaurant and hospitality workers supporting each other’s mental wellness through the sharing of resources, tools for wellness, and stories of recovery; The Colorado Village Collaborative runs transformational housing communities in partnership with people coming from homelessness; Star Girlz Empowerment’s Project SHINE provides psycho-social education and treatment to African-American and Latino/a adolescent youth and their families, helping youth address issues such as anger, anxiety, grief, trauma, substance misuse, and bullying.
This work is important, and it matters. But wait, she didn’t stop there! After passing the ballot initiative that created Caring for Denver (a foundation that Herod leads), she learned about a program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS, (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets). CAHOOTS provides support for the city’s police department by serving as the mobile crisis intervention program. The team from CAHOOTS often provides the preliminary contact for people who are under the influence, mentally ill, or unsettled, in addition to transport for non-emergency medical care. And with that a STAR was born in Denver.
The STAR Program, (Support Team Assisted Response), which Caring for Denver helped launch with early support, has now been operational for two years. STAR is dispatched through Denver 9-1-1 and utilizes Emergency Response Teams that include Emergency Medical Technicians and Behavioral Health Clinicians to help those experiencing distress or hardship related to mental health issues, homelessness, and substance abuse.
The program has been successful in de-escalating situations without the consequence of an arrest and reduces the potential for situations to end in violence which may result from the presence of police officers.
According to a 2022 mid-year report from Denver’s Department of Public Safety, the team responded to 2,837 calls and didn’t require back-up for any of those calls. Of those incidents, STAR provided clinical support in 1,132 instances.
This program is working and the City has increased funding for it numerous times in its short tenure because of the incredible efficacy of the program.
Representative Leslie Herod is a true advocate for mental health services in the Denver community and this makes her a local treasure. She’s passed over 150 bills and her work is typically focused on improving the lives of people. Another important issue she tackled was providing free menstrual hygiene products to people in custody. The bill requires facilities to provide whichever menstrual hygiene products are requested by a person in custody to the person in custody at no expense to the person in custody.
She sponsored the Crown Act, which protects workers and students from hair-related discrimination in education, employment, housing, public accommodations and advertising. She co-sponsored the “Colorado Building Families Act,” which requires health benefit plans issued or renewed in Colorado to cover diagnosis of infertility, treatment for infertility, and fertility preservation services.
We commend her for creating and supporting cutting edge solutions for the problems that impact all of us. Representative Herod, regardless of the results of this spring’s elections, we thank you for standing up for our community time and time again.
To learn more about Leslie Herod and to volunteer for her campaign, check-out www.leslieformayor.com. You can also follow her on Facebook @LeslieForDenver, Twitter @LeslieHerod and Instagram @LeslieHerod.