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Mobile mental health pilot program moves forward in Gary
Times - 8/28/2023
Aug. 27—GARY — The city is moving forward with a mobile mental health unit pilot program.
Designed to expand the city's mental health services and reduce negative interactions with police, the idea for a mobile mental health crisis response team came out of the list of recommendations created by the Gary Police Reform Commission in 2021. Gary Mayor Jerome Prince signed an executive order creating the commission in June 2020, shortly after the world watched Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd.
The Interfaith Action Network has been working for months alongside the Gary Common Council to get the mobile mental health unit funded. In March, the council approved putting $1.5 million of the city's American Rescue Plan Act money towards the initiative.
At the start of the week, the city released a request for qualifications, or RFQ, for a crisis response initiative project manager; the application closes Sept. 30.
The mobile mental health team is envisioned as a clinician-led model, where family members, teachers and anyone else who sees someone in crisis can call a special number and be referred to the mental health team. The unit would consist of professionals who specialize in crisis intervention and social work.
In an email to the Times, Interfaith Action Network member Becky Hanscom said a request for proposals for contractors who will help implement the mobile mental health unit will likely be released later this fall.
An exact date for when the project will be up and running has not been determined.
According to the RFQ, the project manager will report to Gary Chief of Staff Joy Holliday. The pay for the position is $65,000 to $85,000, depending on experience, and the qualifications include a bachelor's degree in project management, business administration, health care administration or a related field and at least five years of relevant experience.
Though the current mobile mental health unit will operate as a pilot program, Hanscom said the Interfaith Action Network plans on going after additional grant funding to continue the initiative.
The idea of a crisis response team dates back decades, but recent calls for police reform have helped the concept gain traction.
In Austin, Texas, 911 dispatchers started asking callers if they need police, fire, emergency medical services or mental health services. In 2021 the added option was able to divert 3,564 calls away from police response. Last summer, then-interim Gary Police Chief Brian Evans said officers answer about 1,400 service calls every week.
In July 2022, the United States' first three-digit mental health hotline was launched. Instead of using 911, callers should dial 988 to be connected with a trained mental health counselor. In addition, this spring Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 1, which delivers more resources to community mental health centers, into law. The new law will be supported by $100 million in the state budget, funding Hanscom said the Gary program is a prime candidate for.
"This will provide expansion of mental health services to the Gary community, help provide professional assistance instead of police interventions, and give individuals experiencing behavioral/emotional/mental health/trauma issues 'someone to call, someone to come and a safe place to go," Hanscom wrote in an email.
According to a database kept by The Washington Post, 20% of the 8,721 people fatally shot by police in the U.S. since 2015 had a known mental illness.
The database shows that 41 of the 165 people fatally shot by police in Indiana since 2015 had a known mental illness.
If the pilot program in Gary is a success, Hanscom said the Interfaith Action network would like to expand the project to all of Lake County.
To apply for the project manager position, email a cover letter and resume to CrisisResponse@Gary.gov.
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