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Columbia introduces DIVERT Program, Homeless Outreach Team to help connect people with social programs


The City of Columbia on Wednesday formally introduced its DIVERT Program and Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to the public.

The program and HOT are aimed at weaving social services into the city's public safety and justice system. According to Human Services Manager Steve Hollis, of the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, DIVERT has been in the works since January 2023 and HOT was put into place this spring.


According to information provided by the city, the DIVERT Program "provides a compassionate approach to justice" by combining social services into the public safety and justice systems. The city says the ultimate goal is to reduce the workload on public safety departments and courts.

The program is comprised of three parts:

  • Community Support Docket
  • Public Safety Diversion
  • Familiar Faces

According to information provided by the city, the Community Support Docket allows for an alternative court process for veterans and people experiencing homelessness who have been charged with a local misdemeanor.

As of April, The Boone County Coalition to End Homelessness said there were 320 people experiencing homelessness in the county. But officials at the meeting said the DIVERT program is not solely for individuals experiencing homelessness.

According to information provided at the press conference, people facing a misdemeanor attend a special court docket, set goals and work with DIVERT staff, the prosecutor and judge in the case. The status of each case is reviewed each month. The goal is to "work towards dismissal" while providing the person with long-term case management and community resources, according to the city.

The Public Safety Diversion allows Columbia's five safety agencies -- which includes the Columbia Police Department, Columbia Fire Department, the Office of Neighborhood Services, Animal Control and the Department of Environmental Health -- to refer people with health or social needs to a DIVERT social services specialist, according to information provided by the city.

The Familiar Faces portion of DIVERT, aims at identifying people who have regular interactions with the city's safety agencies, information from the city states. DIVERT staff provide "more intensive case management services to these familiar faces" in hopes of "reducing repeat interactions."

"We’re hoping it will cut down on calls, the repeat calls we’re receiving at the police department from certain folks; because we’re now connecting them with services other than the police department," Columbia Police Chief Jill Schlude said.

From January 2023-April 2024, the city says it's given 284 referrals to DIVERT. Most of those referrals came from the Community Support Docket, followed by police.

Homeless Outreach Team

On Wednesday, the city also introduced its Homeless Outreach Team. The team is made up of officers who work with people who are chronically homeless. City officials say the team will connect individuals with services, with the goal of finding the person permanent housing.

Of the 320 total people listed as homeless, 55 are veterans, according to a data review from the Boone County Coalition to End Homelessness. There are 202 groups of people defined as “households” in the data set, 55 of which are described as “chronic households.” The data review shows that 70.79% of households are described as “single households.”  

Schlude said police used to see homeless people in the downtown area only, that has now expanded throughout the city.

"We're getting reports of camps or people at various businesses, and so we are trying to be responsive to that. So we kind of took [officers] who were primarily downtown and now we're asking them to help with these things all over the city," Schlude said.

Schlude said the HOT team is currently made up of two officers. She said once the department is further staffed, it plans to add more people to the team.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Meghan Drakas

Meghan joined ABC 17 News in January 2021.
The Penn State grad is from the Philadelphia suburbs where she interned with several local TV stations.


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