Seattle City Councilmember will introduce legislation to create new mental health and substance addiction first-responder program

by DCG

Last week Seattle City Council member Andrew Lewis proposed legislation to create and fully fund a new mental health and substance addiction first-responder program. Andrew just assumed office this past January and has spent his career in the public sector.

About Andrew’s proposed legislation, from the City’s web site:

“Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis, Chair of the Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments, announced this morning he will introduce legislation to create and fully fund a new mental health and substance addiction first-responder program, based on a Eugene, Oregon program called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets, or CAHOOTS.

CAHOOTS outreach teams are unarmed and composed of a medic and a mental health crisis worker. They are immediately dispatched by 911 to respond to people experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis and can offer counseling, conflict resolution, housing referrals, first aid, and immediate transportation to services.

“When a building is on fire we send the fire department. When someone has a stroke we send an ambulance. Why do we send armed police to help someone in a mental health or drug-related crisis? By the most conservative estimates one in every four people fatally shot by a police officer has a mental illness. This has to stop,” said Councilmember Lewis.

CAHOOTS has been in existence since 1989 and is operated by Eugene’s White Bird Clinic. On an annual basis, CAHOOTS responds to nearly 24,000 calls, representing almost 20 percent of all 911 calls. Out of all those calls, CAHOOTS workers only requested police assistance 150 times in 2019. More than 60 percent of CAHOOTS’ clients are experiencing homelessness. This successful program has saved Eugene on average $8.5 million a year in policing costs and $14 million a year in emergency medical response costs.

We cannot police our way out of poverty, racial inequity, homelessness and our mental health crisis. By diverting these types of calls to CAHOOTS, Seattle has the opportunity to save money and invest in a program that adequately responds to people’s essential needs,” Lewis said.”

CAHOOTs describes themselves as “critical assistance helping out on the streets.”

From the CAHOOTS web site“We are a funny blend of idealism and realism. We are committed to being of service to the community and the clients we serve and we share a hope for a better world – we take pride in doing our part!”

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Eugene Police with a homeless man

So how is CAHOOTS making Eugene (Lane County) a better place?

From October 2019“Eugene has most homeless per capita in US”

From July 2018For the last 30 years, Lane County’s suicide rate has exceeded the national average.

From July 2016The Eugene area has one of the highest rates of excessive drinking in the state – 22%. Oregon as a whole has a rate of 19%. Lane County has a fatal overdose rate of 15 per 100,000 residents, resulting in 156 deaths in 2014. This ranks #12 in Oregon.

While democrats are rushing to #defundpolice, this CAHOOTS program is being pushed in the media as an effective model for prioritizing mental health over police.

While CAHOOTs may be saving the city money and de-escalating some situations, I question just how effective the program has been in “enabling people to gain control of their social, emotional, and physical well-being through direct service, education, and community.”

Saving taxpayer costs on emergency response calls may be beneficial yet how much better are the residents/taxpayers of Eugene when – overall and in the long run – homelessness, suicide and substance abuse statistics do not improve? I guess that depends upon your definition of “adequately respond” and “gain control.”



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