City distributes medication from vans following closure of mental health clinic

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Since the building which housed the Mental Health Adult Services Clinic closed June 27 because of a flea infestation, staff members have been distributing medication and government checks to those with mental illness in two vans.

After its previous location at 2640 Martin Luther King Jr. Way was forced to close, the clinic began operating out of a building owned by Options Recovery Services — a nonprofit that provides transitional housing — and from inside the two white vans near the former facility. The nonprofit is located at 1931 Center St., nine blocks east of its former facility.

“At this point, we’re providing all of the services we were before,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “This isn’t a long-term solution though. We really need to find a physical space the city can use to better serve the clients.”

The two vans and the clinic’s partnership with Options Recovery Services are meant to be a short-term solution until a better-suited facility is found to house the clinic. In an emergency measure last Tuesday, Berkeley City Council authorized a $500,000 expenditure to purchase a modular office to be placed in West Berkeley Senior Center’s parking lot.

Chakko said there should be a minimal impact to the city’s mentally ill population, as the same services are being provided in different locations. Before staff can move into the modular office, the city’s mental health division’s strategy will provide psychiatric services at Options Recovery Services while dispensing medication and government checks from the vans.

Chakko also noted that 80 percent of the division’s services are provided out in the field, such as its mobile crisis team that treats people experiencing a mental health crisis on-site.

Guy “Mike” Lee, a member of Berkeley’s homeless community, was not as optimistic about the situation as Chakko and said the closure would have a “huge impact” on Berkeley’s mentally ill population.

“It’s going to exacerbate the problem because (patients) can’t go and get treatment, go to sessions and establish a routine,” Lee said, adding that the clinic’s closure “changed their comfort zone, and you can’t do that.”

Prior to the flea infestation, plans had already been underway to move the clinic to a temporary location starting this December in order to renovate the building. Following the infestation, Chakko said renovations to the original facility are expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

“We have a terrific mental health staff and they provide a very high level of service,” Chakko said. “We just want to support them and our clients the best way we can.”

Contact Winston Cho at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @winstonscho.