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Interfaith Action Network supporters Haniah Davis at podium, Pastor Tom Bozeman, and Pastor Joy Heine at Gary city council meeting in March

What will Gary’s mobile crisis response program look like?

Contributed By: The 411 News

City getting ready to reduce law enforcement responses to mental and behavioral health problems

What will Gary’s mobile mental health program look like when it’s rolled out? City hall signaled that could be soon when it issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a Mobile Mental Health/Crisis Response Initiative Project Manager to oversee the development and implementation of the program.

How will it satisfy dual aims to improve access to mental health services and reduce law enforcement responses to mental health crises?

The initiative got its start in Gary when Mayor Jerome Prince answered residents calls for police reform, launching the Gary Police Citizens Advisory Commission in September 2020, his first year in office.

The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer earlier that year propelled Gary and communities nationwide to examine police practices. One of the Advisory Commission’s recommendations – crisis intervention training for police – gained traction in the community, galvanizing social justice advocates who said spending time in jail was not the solution for the homeless, drug and alcohol abusers, and those with mental illnesses.

‘Give them help, not handcuffs’ was the message from the Interfaith Action Network, a coalition of local churches and synagogues that asked the city to set up a mobile crisis response program to answer calls for help instead of relying on the police.

“When our proposal went before the Gary city council’s Ways and Means Committee, councilmembers wanted to know who could provide these services and they had concerns about the program’s sustainability,” said IAN’s spokesperson Becky Hanscom.

IAN returned to the council with a model for a crisis response program from Edgewater Health’s Chief Clinical Officer Chris Carroll.

Gary's program would be a 24/7, 365-day, 'no decline' operation responding to individuals and families experiencing disruptions in their lives, whether mental or behavioral.

’No decline’ means everyone who comes through the program doors will be served or a team will be dispatched to meet people where they are. "No matter how many times they call," Carroll said.

The mobile crisis response units will be standalone, clinicians’ only teams; not co-responder teams that have a social worker and a police officer working together.

”Trained mental health workers know before they get on the scene, whether police are needed," Carroll explained. "We want to build a model in Gary where people will call a crisis response number that the community and police have been trained to use, just like we've been trained since we were children to call 911."

"We would respond first. In my experiences as a crisis worker, the majority of mental health crises didn't require law enforcement," Carroll said. "A lot of schools call when they have issues with kids at school. They have to call the police even though it may not be a police matter. That's because they don't have an option. The program will give schools and the community options.”

"We are going to partner with the police, work with them, because there will be times when crisis response needs the police for safety," Carroll said.

When the call comes in, some assessment will be done over the phone. If the call is suicidal, the crisis worker will ask if weapons are in the home. If there are weapons, police will be needed. If not, the crisis worker will go out and assess the situation to determine the best course of action.

Gary’s Crisis Center is the local call center for the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The other part of crisis response is linking those who need help to treatment and services that same day or the next day. "The police aren't charged to address that; we are," Carroll said. “When housing is needed, jails will not be used.”

Hanscom said three things are needed to get the program started.

Hiring the project manager is first. “That person on the payroll of the city would oversee the institution of this program, making sure that whoever was selected as the contract provider would meet all of the specific benchmarks that the city agreed that they needed to have,” Hanscom said.

Second is a meeting of community stakeholders. People and organizations that deal with homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health problems will sit down with the project manager to talk about what they feel are the most important aspects of the program and how they can help the program function correctly.

The third thing that needs to happen is the city must issue a request for bids to serve as the contract provider and operator of the program. Local service providers like Edgewater, Regional Health Systems, Porter-Starke Services and similar organizations would be likely bidders.

Gary is supplying the initial funding for the program, $1.5 million to be expended over 4 years.

Hanscom said this year the state made available $76 million in grants for mental health and addiction services. “We've been pressuring the city because this money is being handed out. They kind of need to get on the stick and get this going.”

Responses to the RFQ for the project manager have a deadline of September 30.

Story Posted:09/11/2023

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