In the shade of Thompson Park on Tuesday afternoon, case managers from Longmont’s Public Safety Department ate lunch with their clients and caught up after being separated earlier this year because of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The casual meal was part of case managers’ attempts to reconnect with people during regularly scheduled hours in two Longmont parks. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays case managers set up shop in Thompson Park, 420 Bross St., and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday, they go to Collyer Park, 619 Collyer St. People who have been referred to the case management team through the Longmont Police Department are invited to a free lunch and to sit down and chat with their case manager.
Emily Van Doren, case management coordinator for Longmont public safety, said park hours started in mid-June and the plan is to offer them through at least the end of July, with the possibility of continuing the hours on a month-by-month basis. Van Doren said the hours in the park give case managers a chance to be more visible in the community. At the park, the goal is mainly to re-establish relationships.
“What it looks like is really conversation based, re-engaging and maybe doing some case management tasks, like referral forms or phone calls,” Van Doren said, “but the main purpose is just to build relationships.”
Longmont’s case managers work to find resources for people who need help with housing, finding jobs or treatment options for substance abuse or mental health issues. Case management usually involves lots of face-to-face interaction. With the spread of the coronavirus, though, Longmont’s six case managers had to set up a tiered system in mid-March. Through the system, they could only meet in person with those who demonstrated the most need. Now, they’re hoping that the park hours are a way to reconnect with those that the virus left on the fringes.
Roughly 321 people have been referred to the city’s case management since July 2018, according to Van Doren. Michelle Webb, the manager of Longmont’s Public Safety Diversion programs, said roughly 40% of clients are now meeting in person with case managers — up 25% from May. Webb said Longmont’s diversion programs were seeing an increase in referrals at the end of May. That need is continuing to rise, Webb said Wednesday.
“Park hours are a step toward connecting our participants to these services, as we’ve seen such a growing need in the aftermath of COVID,” Webb said. “Strengthening those positive, supportive relationships, especially after this time when so many are feeling the impact of this continued isolation, is so important. When those relationships are strong, even more can be accomplished over the long term.”
Annabel Perez, a peer case manager who works with people referred to the program, said she had lost touch with about five people — 1/3 of her caseload. So far, she’s been able to reconnect with two of the five people.
“They fell off (the map) and it was really hard,” Perez said. “You know the struggles that these people were struggling with before the pandemic and the pandemic just made everything harder. It was hard not being able to connect with them and lend a helping hand during that hard time.”
One challenge has been reaching those without a reliable form of communication. Perez said a number of clients lack a reliable source of communication, like a cell phone or computer. She hopes that through word of mouth and street outreach, case managers can spread the word to more people. For those who have come to the park hours, Perez said clients have been receptive and grateful to see case managers face-to-face again.
“I think it’s been really helpful to them,” Perez said. “They have expressed some good feedback knowing we are there. We are keeping hygiene products with us and laundry vouchers, things that they might need. Knowing that’s going to be accessible to them when they come there, I’ve gotten some great feedback from that. They’ve really appreciated getting to meet in a neutral place outside.”
Perez said she’s hopeful that she will be able to reconnect with the remainder of her clients.
“Being in one set, designated place definitely helps,” Perez said. “We just have to get people to us now.”