diversion from jails and hospitals
7:34 am
Thu January 20, 2011

Crisis center for mentally unstable opposed by neighbors

A diversion program intended to keep drug abusers and troubled mentally ill people out of hospitals and jails has run into opposition.  Neighbors of a proposed new facility in Seattle don’t want it.  They say the "Jackson Park" area between Rainier Valley and the Central District already has enough challenges and has become a dumping ground. 

An existing property has already been purchased for the proposed “Crisis Solutions Center,” which would provide temporary shelter and intensive counseling for 46 people at a time.  They’ll include people arrested for petty crimes, such as shoplifting or drug possession, but no violent criminals.  The location is about a half-mile from Harborview and Swedish hospitals, and the proposal says the center will divert individuals currently taken to emergency rooms and jails into  "a more appropriate therapeutic alternative."

The Downtown (Seattle) Emergency Services Center (DESC) has applied for city permits and hopes to open the facility this year.   Neighbors are appealing those permits.  The property is located where a largely residential street transitions to commercial

The Central District News has been covering the proposal since last fall.  At a public hearing in November, one resident summed up the concerns:

"I'm tired of the city dumping on this neighborhood, and I want to fight this," said a long-time resident. People also asked several times, Why put this center in a residential area?

Similar triage centers in other counties 

Pierce, Snohomish and Whatcom are among the counties with crisis centers already open or in the works. But, most of them are in industrial areas or at existing hospitals. Anne Koch writes for the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)  newsletter:

At their core is this idea: If behavioral health crises — ones of untreated mental illness, chemical dependency or a combination — are responded to with the right resources and with the right touch, there's a good chance of getting people involved in lasting treatment.

"When you have them in that crisis situation, that's when you have an opportunity for impact," said Tim Holmes, a mental health counselor by training who now administers the Mobile Outreach Crisis Team program in Pierce County. "We're really focused on trying to partner with people when they're in crisis."

At the same time, the right kind of intervention helps individuals in crisis avoid the over-burdened systems that aren't designed for behavioral health emergencies and usually make them worse: hospital emergency rooms, jails and prison cells.