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SLO city moves forward on mobile crisis unit 

San Luis Obispo's new pilot program to address homelessness and mental health issues is a direct response to community concerns, Mayor Heidi Harmon said during the Aug. 24 City Council meeting.

"There's been so many policies we've made that we've incorporated the community's voices on, and this is one," Harmon said. "This is so exciting; I'm really glad to see this come forward."

click to enlarge NEW UNIT The San Luis Obispo Fire Department hopes to have the city's new mobile crisis unit, which will focus on mental health, homeless, and addiction issues, up and running by late October. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SLO
  • File Photo Courtesy Of The City Of Slo
  • NEW UNIT The San Luis Obispo Fire Department hopes to have the city's new mobile crisis unit, which will focus on mental health, homeless, and addiction issues, up and running by late October.

Approved as part of the City Council's 2021-22 budget discussions earlier this year, on Aug. 23 the council gave San Luis Obispo Fire Department Chief Keith Aggson the go-ahead to contract services for a mental health clinician and purchase a vehicle to start the mobile crisis unit, which will focus on issues related to mental health, homelessness, and addiction. The two-year pilot program is inspired by similar programs in Eugene, Oregon, and San Francisco and Oakland—which have mental health crisis units run by their respective fire departments.

Aggson said a team consisting of a certified EMT (emergency medical technician) and a mental health clinician will respond to certain calls for service from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The fire chief said he's working with dispatch to determine a series of questions that dispatchers can ask to figure out whether to send the mobile crisis unit, the unit and police officers, or the unit and fire department officials to a call.

"Pretty interesting and pretty exciting that we're moving in the right direction on this," Aggson said during the Aug. 24 meeting. "It's pretty much every day where we're running a wide variety of homeless and mental health calls."

The mobile crisis unit will work conjunctively with the city's new homeless services coordinator, the San Luis Obispo Police Department's CAT (community action team), SLO County Behavioral Health, and Transitions-Mental Health Association to determine the services that people need and ensure that they receive them. To measure success and track data, the unit will collect information on the number of contacts it makes, how often it makes contact with the same people, how many contacts it takes to get them services, and what services are needed.

"One of the biggest challenges of this program is a lot of individuals, they may not want services, they may tell us no," Aggson said. "So what does it take to get them into the service that they need?"

It will also track what times of day, what days of the week, and what areas of the city where calls for mental health crisis services are made, so the program can adjust accordingly. Aggson said the unit will measure success based on things like the number of citizens who become housed, suicide and crisis intervention, and reduction in dependency on the emergency room services.

He's hoping that everything will be in place to start the program by October.

According the a city staff report, SLO aims to provide "evidence of effective programming for the county of San Luis Obispo to adopt and expand upon as the agency with dedicated funding for social services." Harmon reiterated that during the meeting, saying that the county gets millions of dollars every year to provide those services, while the city gets zero.

"Advocate to the county to spend that money where it needs to be spent," she said. "We really need those dollars within our city limits." Δ

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