Huntington Beach latest to create non-police team to deal with mental health and homelessness issues – Orange County Register
Next summer, Huntington Beach is expected to launch a mobile crisis response team to handle a variety of mental health and behavioral service calls, rather than dispatching police when no crime, violence. or event involving a weapon does not take place.
The two-person civilian team – an emergency medical technician and a clinically trained counselor – is billed as the first such program in the city of Orange County. The city’s Helping People Out Everywhere (HOPE) team will focus on mental health issues, going beyond the homeless population and serving all residents of Huntington Beach.
“It could be a person living in a closed neighborhood, or a homeless person who is suffering, and anything in between,” said Huntington Beach Police Chief Julian Harvey.
Huntington Beach is part of a growing trend by cities and others to move away from non-criminal response to law enforcement crises.
In March, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced the creation of a Behavioral Health Office to provide MPs with additional training in behavioral and crisis intervention. Once trained, these assistants will work alongside county mental health clinicians and social workers. In January, Anaheim launched the unarmed community care response team of social workers to help homeless people living outside.
In Huntington Beach, the HOPE team will handle a variety of situations, including homelessness, drug and alcohol-related issues, non-violent conflict involving family members or neighbors, and appeals regarding people in crisis due to mental illness.
The town will host a public town hall on Wednesday, May 5 at 6 p.m., via Huntington Beach Facebook and Youtube accounts. At the town hall, residents can learn more about the HOPE project and Be Well OC, which is overseeing the one-year pilot project under a $ 1.5 million contract.
The program represents a new partnership between the city and Be Well, the public-private entity that began earlier this year to provide comprehensive on-site crisis intervention and longer-term residential treatment for people with mental illness. and drug addiction. With case management also integrated into the Huntington Beach program, people who interact with the HOPE team could end up on the Be Well campus in Orange.
Harvey pointed out in a telephone interview last week that the HOPE program did not represent any “definancing” of the police department. Instead, it will complement the efforts of homeless outreach workers and expand assistance to citizens facing mental and behavioral health crises. For too long, Harvey said, police have been the default agency to handle such calls, and the only places available to take many of these people have been hospital emergency rooms.
“If this isn’t a violent incident or one involving weapons or overt criminality, there really is no reason for us to be here,” Harvey said.
The HOPE team could mean better outcomes for people in crisis. Harvey added that the new team would also free up officers for traditional policing work if they didn’t have to spend hours taking someone to the ER and waiting for their disposition. It could also reduce tensions that can arise between the police and the people they are supposed to serve, sometimes with deadly consequences.
“They see us in uniform, and that can be provocative,” he said, referring to what sometimes happens when the police respond to calls related to social services.
“It changes the dynamics unnecessarily.”
New program, old model
City Manager Oliver Chi is credited with laying the foundation for the program. In April, when Huntington Beach City Council approved the program by a 7-0 vote, Chi told council members that the HOPE team could put the city on the cutting edge to better serve its citizens.
“It’s not often that we get the chance to be part of a new effort that could dramatically change the context in which we respond to ongoing service requests in the community,” said Chi, who took over. as a senior administrator at Huntington Beach for almost two years. since.
Just over half of the program’s funding – $ 825,000 – comes from the American Rescue Plan Act that President Joe Biden passed a law in March, and the rest comes from the Police Department’s Development Fund and the city’s Restricted Restitution Fund.
The HOPE team model is a mobile crisis response program in Eugene, Ore., known by the acronym CAHOOTS, for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, which was credited with save lives and money. For nearly 30 years, ACHOOTS staff have been provided 24/7 by clinicians, not police officers, who take calls routed by 9-1-1 dispatch agents. who have been trained to determine which calls should and should not be made to the police. CAHOOTS response teams travel in specially equipped vans with their logo on the sides, a process that should be copied in Huntington Beach.
“It will be like the dispatcher says, ‘We understand your situation and we are sending HOPE out there,’ said Marshall Moncrief, managing director of the nonprofit Mind OC which oversees the work of Be Well.
There is no firm date yet for the start of the Huntington Beach pilot program.
Moncrief, who lives in Huntington Beach and previously served as director of neurobehavioural health at Hoag Presbyterian Hospital, became familiar with CAHOOTS because he frequently traveled to Eugene, Ore., Where his daughter was attending university. Be Well hired two people to oversee the HOPE team, including an experienced EMT who was previously part of the CAHOOTS program. Their work will be practical.
“They won’t be sitting in an office somewhere,” Moncrief said. “They will be in this van, going through this with their team.”
Beyond Surf City
Be Well’s plan is to start with limited hours and build up gradually. Decisions on how to develop the service will be based on data, and the program could expand beyond Huntington Beach into other communities in Orange County, Moncrief said.
The HOPE team can also assist police when communicating with survivors about the death of a loved one. “They could accompany them to provide emotional support to the family,” Moncrief said.
The team will provide basic first aid and transport the homeless for services to the Huntington Beach Navigation Center. They will also be ready to guide people seeking help with a dependency to the appropriate resources.
Michael Wright, a former EMT who now runs the nonprofit Wound Walk OC, a five-year program in which Wright and other volunteers provide basic health care and information to homeless people staying in homes. parks and other outdoor venues, thinks the program might work. . Wright, who lives in Santa Ana, brought her yard to Huntington Beach in March and is happy to see the city embrace the idea of decriminalizing homelessness and moving to a crisis prevention model for mental health care.
“I’m in love with this idea,” Wright wrote in an email. “Wound Walk is grateful that the City of Huntington Beach seeks to provide the type of trauma-informed care that we provide to more people, in a more consistent way.