Opinion: Littleton can address homelessness by building a compassionate community

A major issue facing the city of Littleton, and one of the reasons why I am running for city council, is the growing problem of homelessness, which has been increasing across the metro area. My approach to this issue sets me dramatically apart from my city council opponent Krista Kafer who is a regular columnist for The Denver Post and has written on the issue.

Unhoused people are people first, and like all people, their history and their journey through life have been unique and often deeply traumatic. Many have lost their jobs due to COVID. Many are military veterans with PSTD. Many have experienced domestic violence. Many are families with children. Some have experienced racism or mental health or addiction issues.

I suggest we build communities that are more informed about the complexities of homelessness, not just show these vulnerable people more “tough love,” as Kafer wrote recently. So how do we develop communities that are more compassionate and well-informed about the impact of trauma and stress?

First, as a mental health professional, I believe that Littleton and other metro-area cities need to consider increasing the use of trained mental health professionals to assist police on calls for help from people suffering a mental health crisis.

I’ve met with Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens, who wishes his department had twice as many mental health professionals available to respond to calls that are clearly not criminal in nature but are mental health-related. The involvement of a mental health professional can defuse situations that can otherwise be dangerous for citizens and police officers alike.

Second, we need to build more compassionate communities by giving back to others through volunteer work and mentorship. That is why I coach a girls’ softball team as a South Suburban Parks and Recreation volunteer, and why I have volunteered with hospice, mentored foster children, and worked with people who are blind.

Third, we must not underestimate the importance of parks, trails, and beautiful open spaces in reducing stress (especially pandemic-related stress) and at other difficult times. Parks must be safe for everyone, especially children. That’s why I pledge to enhance and protect the quality of Littleton’s outdoor spaces.

Fourth, we need to use the power of the arts to bring joy and healing in stressful times. That’s why I play viola with the Denver Pops Orchestra and for my church, and why I support programming at the Littleton Museum, Town Hall Arts Center, Hudson Gardens, and other Littleton venues.

Fifth, as the child of grandparents who ran their own small business, I know the stress facing our small businesses entrepreneurs. Compassionate communities take care of their local businesses, especially during stressful times, which is why I am deeply committed to doing everything possible to help our small businesses thrive.

Compassionate communities are healthy and well-rounded places that are welcoming to all and where all people want to live, work, play, and retire. Littleton has always striven to do the things that will make everyone feel welcome.

As a mental health professional, I understand all the different steps needed to ensure that Littleton continues to value its history, to face the future with confidence, and to continue to be the community we love.

Like other cities across the state, Littleton needs city council members who can build compassionate communities. I hope that on Nov. 3, The Denver Post will be able to report that I have been elected by the voters to help lead Littleton into a positive future.

Gretchen Rydin is a candidate for Littleton City Council and is a clinical social worker, and addiction counselor.

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