Community meeting expected to discuss mental health crisis units in South Bend

By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune

In the wake of Dante Kittrell’s death at the hands of South Bend police, community activists are holding a community meeting Wednesday night to address the topic of mental health crisis response teams.

The meeting, organized by multiple organizations, including Black Lives Matter South Bend and Faith in Indiana, will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Near Northwest Neighborhood Center on Portage Avenue. The event comes as community groups and city officials have debated various ideas about implementing a mobile crisis unit that would respond to mental-health emergencies instead of, or potentially in addition to, police.

“The death of Dante Kittrell has shaken our South Bend community. No longer will we be accepting policing as a first response to mental-health and substance-abuse related 911 calls,” a Black Lives Matter statement advertising Wednesday night’s meeting read.

On Monday, the city’s Common Council sidelined a non-binding resolution that called for a mobile crisis team to be created within the South Bend Fire Department. City leaders, including South Bend Fire Chief Carl Buchanon and Mayor James Mueller, held a press conference earlier that day calling the proposal “ignorant about how our fire department operates.”

Officials have said the city’s public safety agencies have been in conversations with mental health providers — including Oaklawn — about how to improve the system’s response to mental health emergencies.

For its part, Oaklawn rolled out a Mobile Crisis Team in March and is responding to mental health calls received through Oaklawn’s hotline. John Horsley, Oaklawn’s vice president of adult and addiction services, said the team of eight clinicians and peer counselors responds to between 60 and 80 calls a week and is available only Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Oaklawn hopes to expand the crisis teams’ operations, though securing future funding remains an unknown.

“I think one of the sad realities we learned from this horrible event is that we need a crisis behavioral healthcare system — just like we have other systems — that’s competent, that intervenes at the right time with the right services, and has a lot of collaborations and partnerships around it,” Horsley previously told The Tribune.

Wednesday’s community meeting also comes as officials in Indianapolis this week proposed a budget that would allocate $2 million to create a 24-hour clinician-led emergency response team that will provide services by teams of behavior health clinicians and peer teams to respond to a mental health crisis.

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