Homeless services panel votes in support of a 24/7 crisis center

Photo of a homeless encampment
Can Jozef Saul/Staff
Following CA Gov. Newsom's announcement of $1.1 billion in funding for mental health housing and services, a panel of experts voted in support of the city of Berkeley establishing a 24/7 crisis stabilization program.

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The Berkeley Homeless Services Panel of Experts voted Wednesday to support an earlier recommendation for the city of Berkeley to establish a 24/7 crisis stabilization program.

The recommendation is based on a similar program in Deschutes County in Oregon, that partners with law enforcement, medical personnel and local agencies. The panel added their approval that the city use funds from Measure P, a real estate transfer tax passed in 2018.

“This is where tragedies happen,” said panel commissioner Denah Bookstein during the meeting. “Tragedies that have happened in Berkeley probably would have been averted if we’d had such a crisis center.”

The panel’s recommendation followed a presentation by Holly Harris, program manager at Deschutes County Crisis Services, that described the Deschutes County Stabilization Center in Bend, Oregon.

The center was established in June 2020 and aims to provide, through both walk-ins and law enforcement drop-offs, an alternative to jail and emergency rooms for people experiencing mental health or substance use crises.

Jacquelyn McCormick, chief of staff for Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, noted the mayor’s office has been interested in a crisis stabilization program since Arreguín took office in 2016.

“This was something that was recommended when we very first did a landscape of what was needed in homeless services,” McCormick said at the meeting. “This is one of the things that we recommended that’s been on the table all that entire time.”

The recommendation comes less than a week after a state announcement Monday, where California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $1.1 billion in funding aimed at providing mental health housing and treatment to individuals experiencing homelessness.

The state funding combines $518.5 million from the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program, or BHCIP, and $570 million from the Community Care Expansion Program, or CCE, both established during the 2021 state budget cycle.

The city of Berkeley has not yet provided specific details about whether it will be applying for these funds.

The current round of Launch Ready grants is aimed at projects that are “ready to be implemented,” according to the joint BHCIP and CCE program website. Criteria for qualifying as “launch ready” include licensure, preliminary construction plans and control over the real estate, according to a January program update.

Alameda County will apply for BHCIP funds again during the current round of funding after securing a Crisis Care Mobile Unit grant during the first round of funding.

“We are closely following the availability of various funding streams and looking for opportunities to enhance our systems of care,” said Janice Adam, spokesperson for Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, in an email.

Contact Alexander Wohl at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @dc_arwohl.