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Denver mayor's 'Road to Recovery' seeks to help those who've fallen through the cracks

Mayor Johnston wants to move 200 people struggling with addiction or mental health out of the criminal justice system
Mike Johnston Roads to Recovery
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jul 10, 2024

DENVER — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston set several goals he wants the city to accomplish this year. One of the mayor's initiatives is called Roads to Recovery.

Johnston said the goal of the initiative is to move 200 people struggling with drug addiction and mental health challenges out of the criminal justice system and into treatment and rehabilitation programs by the end of the year.

In an update to the Denver City Council Wednesday, Matthew Ball, the director of policy for the mayor’s office, said they’ve connected 92 people with case managers and 52 people with treatment and rehabilitation services. Ball said six people have completed those services.

“It’s not the case that when someone is connected to care, we declare mission accomplished,” said Ball. “Relapse is part of recovery. The journey is very long. It takes many turns.”

Ball said the projected spending for the program will total $3.7 million. He said the mayor's office has tapped into existing programs and resources and will be pursuing state and federal funding.

City council members said they wanted to see more details about spending and how the program fits into city government and works in relation to other programs.

“There is no scaling. There's no clarity on spending and budget and long-term success measures,” said Denver City Councilman Darrell Watson.

“We are hoping that this is going to work without the right mechanisms in place — or any mechanisms in place to actually make it work,” said Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer.

Ball said several departments are involved in the initiative.

“The hope would be that once the pilot presents some success, it does get institutionalized more formally into departments,” said Ball. “I think to your point, that’s where the long-term sustainability will come.”

Denver wants to move 200 people out of the criminal justice system by end of 2024

Kelly Mahana, who attended the council meeting, is an enthusiastic supporter of Roads to Recovery.

Mahana is the founder of Authentic Recovery Homes and helps people who’ve battled addictions get back on their feet. He said many people often fall through the cracks. For instance, while many cycle in and out of jail, they don’t stay in jail long enough to receive help that others do and end up back on the streets or in situations that put them at risk.

“When they go to jail, they're not going to be in jail for months or years. They're going to be there until they get in front of the judge. It could be a few hours or a couple of days,” said Mahana. “So they're the least prioritized individuals with some of the highest needs.”

Manaha, who battled his own addiction and even served time in prison from ages 17 to 32, believes the program will help those who need it most.

“It just feels good that the city is finally recognizing that there is a higher need, and instead of, like, turning their backs to it or pretending like it doesn't exist or it's not real, they're trying to find a solution,” said Mahana.

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