By Naja Woods | ABC57
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind., — On Tuesday, the St. Joseph County Council approved almost $3 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support a new crisis response center designed for those dealing with mental health or substance abuse crises, instead of taking them to jail.
Local faith leaders in the Jail Diversion Task Force, the health department, the county police department, and more have been working to get a mental health center for nearly three years.
Members of Faith in Indiana came together ahead of Tuesday’s St. Joseph County Council meeting and filled up nearly every seat during it, to call for funding for a true mental health center in the county.
The council voted unanimously to approve nearly $2.7 million in COVID-19 relief money to support their push.
“It’s important because everyone is impacted one way or the other by the mental problems of mental disease,” said Pastor James Williams, a member or Faith in Indiana.
“Unfortunately, the situation is often times where this individual ends up in a jail because currently in our county we don’t have any place to take individuals with a mental health crisis,” added Jeff Walker, the Executive Director of the Beacon Community Resource Center and a member of the Jail Diversion task force of Faith in Indiana.
For Walker these kinds of services are personal and he said essential for the community.
“As I mentioned I had eight years many years ago a crack cocaine addiction, so these conversations really cross over. We’re talking about homelessness we’re talking about mental health crisis, we’re talking about substance-abuse,” he explained. “I would just want to see the people in our community no longer have to linger in the streets and have an opportunity to be inside a facility where they can be diagnosed.”
The St. Joseph County Police Department also supported the move, as an effort to reduce the county jail’s population by 30% over three years, and give individuals in crisis the true support they need, especially during the pandemic.
“Just all the unknowns related to COVID the numbers of mental health calls for service, and the number of mental health commitments have gone up tremendously,” added St. Joseph County Police Department Sheriff Bill Redman. “We know for a fact that there are a lot of people suffering from mental health and addiction issues and if we can eliminate that, that’ll help lower the population of our jail. So, our goal is to get the proper assistance and care for people that are addicted to drugs and or suffering from mental illness.”
Sheriff Redman also said they eventually want a mobile response unit, so that instead of uniformed officers, trained medical professionals can respond to sensitive calls and continue the work in the mental health center.
The project is also seeking more funding from the state and they hope of facility can be a shared and expanded space at Memorial’s Epworth Center by 2022.