Collaborative outreach increases system safety

Tara Broghammer

In 2019, RTD became the first transit agency in the country to have a mental health clinician work alongside its transit police. Spearheaded by RTD Deputy Chief Steve Martingano, the agency started offering outreach services based on a pilot program with Well Power – formerly the Mental Health Center of Denver – and its mental health clinicians. The program has fostered agency relationships to increase customer access to resources in the RTD service area.

In January 2022, RTD added a homeless outreach coordinator to its outreach. Currently, two mental health clinicians and a homeless outreach coordinator are working on behalf of RTD. As part of the program, a RTD Transit Police officer accompanies a mental health clinician to areas within the agency’s district to provide referrals and resources, rather than make an arrest for what could be misinterpreted as criminal behavior rather than understood as a mental health crisis.

RTD’s outreach program is making a positive difference in being able to offer needed resources.

“The biggest improvement has been the building of trust with individuals that are experiencing homelessness and mental health issues. The Transit Police officers have made great strides in developing relationships with and directing people to outreach organizations for assistance,” Martingano said.

Given the success of the RTD outreach program, the agency plans to add five additional mental health clinicians and five more homeless outreach coordinators with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health to work on the agency’s behalf.

“This will assist with more daily coverage and directly impact being able to provide people with resources in RTD service areas,” Martingano said.

Having a dedicated homeless outreach coordinator working on RTD’s behalf means that the coordinator understands the urgency in providing people with mental health and/or housing resources. 

“We work with eight counties and 40 cities for transit services. The response times to assist RTD with issues related to an encampment on RTD property makes a big difference to life safety. Our homeless outreach coordinator, Alton Reynolds, knows where shelters and organizations are throughout our service area, so he can direct individuals to these resources and help them use buses or trains to get to their destination,” said Martingano.

Another improvement since launching RTD’s outreach program has been through the homeless outreach coordinator’s collaborative efforts to work closely with RTD Rail, Bus, Facilities and Safety departments.

“Alton receives information about encampments that are affecting operations and causing life safety concerns. He has built partnerships with all the counties and cities RTD services, by reaching out for support on getting people to proper resources. The main goal is to not move the problem from RTD to public property, but rather to work together to find a solution,” Martingano said.

By the end of 2024, RTD plans to have seven mental health clinicians and six homeless outreach coordinators working in areas that mirror the Transit Police sector footprint.

By Tara Broghammer

Mental Health Clinician Jake Smith partners with RTD Transit Police Officers across the district