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Cheyenne homeless program reduces recidivism, but not homelessness

The Cheyenne Police Department has wrapped up a program that was intended to help the homeless get access to shelter and other services, and keep them out of jail.

The Homeless Empowerment Action Team, or HEAT, consisted of police officers and Robin Zimmer, the director of the COMEA homeless shelter. They went around town, informed homeless people of laws about loitering and panhandling, and told them about available social services.

But most individuals declined shelter or other help. Zimmer says that’s because many were alcoholics, and the only shelter in town is dry.

“We have a no-tolerance policy at the shelter, as do most shelters,” Zimmer said. “And so for someone who is really struggling with addiction … when we say to them, ‘Well, if you … stop drinking and come to the shelter, we’ll help you, that’s not an option for them.”

Still, the police department says the program did accomplish certain goals. For example, recidivism decreased.

“In the months prior to the implementation of the HEAT program, taxpayers were paying almost $63,000 for jail costs for transients, and it was continuing to increase,” said Police Department Spokesman Dan Long. “Once we started the HEAT program, you saw that increase stop, and it started to decrease.”

Long and Zimmer also said the program gave them a better sense of the needs of the homeless population and the barriers that are keeping them from getting help.

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