By Gemma DiCarlo | WTIU
The St. Joseph County chapter of activist group Faith in Indiana held a town hall Sunday calling for state support of a “robust crisis response system.”
Last year, the group called for county and city officials to fund mobile response teams and an intake center for people in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Local mental health advocates have said that without a dedicated crisis response center, people experiencing a mental health episode have little choice but to call 911 — meaning they’re often treated at the county jail.
“A dedicated crisis system isn’t just the most practical choice. It’s the most compassionate and effective one,” Anne Crafton, a Faith in Indiana leader at South Bend’s First United Methodist Church, said Sunday.
The county has since dedicated $2.7 million to renovate a space at Memorial Epworth Center for a 23-hour crisis response center and fund its operations for one year. The city of South Bend has also budgeted $5.8 million for “county partnerships for homelessness and mental health.”
Now, faith leaders are calling for state legislators to create dedicated funding streams to support crisis response systems — namely, a cellphone surcharge similar to the one that supports 911.
“If every Hoosier with a cellphone paid a user fee of 3 cents a day, it would generate $90 million a year for crisis response,” Crafton said. “Three cents a day so that our family members can get the help they need when they’re in crisis.”
The federal law that establishes the three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988) allows states to charge a user fee for providing 988-related services.
Chris Drapeau — executive director of prevention, suicide prevention and crisis response for Indiana Family and Social Services — said that fee can be used to fund crisis response call centers, intake centers and mobile response teams as well as routing costs.
“It’s not just for the crisis lines, but it’s to fund the entire system,” Drapeau said. “If we don’t have a way to sustain it, it’s just a pipe dream. This is never going to be what we want it to be.”
State lawmakers passed a law last year that establishes a 988 trust fund, but not a dedicated revenue stream.
State Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger) and Rep. Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend) both pledged their support Sunday to pursue that funding at the Statehouse.
“So often, people come to me with legislation and they don’t have a plan,” Rogers said. “You have a plan. Let’s execute it.”
Rev. Michelle Cobb, of Evangel Heights United Methodist Church, said five other state lawmakers have agreed to meet with local Faith in Indiana leaders in May — Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen), Sen. David Niezgodzki (D-South Bend), Rep. Jake Teshka (R-South Bend), Rep. Dale DeVon (R-Granger) and Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend).
Crisis response funding is part of the group’s Families First agenda, which calls for affordable housing, climate justice and fair wages, among other things.
The St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana is a financial supporter of WVPE.