Newport Beach Approves Crisis Response Team for Homeless and Community Residents




Counselors trained in mental health crisis intervention are expected to begin responding to the demand for service appeals, assisting law enforcement with special attention to the Newport Beach homeless community starting in December, as part of a 12-month pilot program.


Editor’s Note: This story is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, which works with student journalists to cover public policy issues in Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County Civics, or have a response to that work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at [email protected]foc.org.


Newport Beach is the second city in Orange County to partner with Be Well Orange County, an Orange-based organization that claims to focus on mental health, which includes providing specialized support to the homeless and county residents. Huntington Beach was the first city to work with the organization in September.

Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously late last month to approve the program, which will be available 12 hours a day. City says two trained Be Well Orange County councilors will operate the program from a pickup truck staff report. According to Be good OC, these counselors will also be able to provide the person with “non-medical transportation to appropriate support services”.

Council members Dianne Dixon said she liked anyone in the community, not just the homeless, to be helped by the response team.

Newport’s new partnership with Be Well is expected to be in place for a year, where the focus will be on responding to the impact of the coronavirus on the growing homeless community, while “helping residents who may experience a mental health crisis ”, according to municipal staff report. The city will evaluate the effectiveness of the service after one year.

As Newport Beach learns from experiences that Huntington Beach Has had with her Be Well OC team, Newport will undergo a “learning period,” said Carol Jacobs, deputy city manager for the city, in a presentation at the council meeting. The Los Angeles Times reported that the initial response to the pilot program in Huntington Beach was positive, as Orange County officials discussed the tax and social benefits that could result if this program were to expand county-wide, and, according to Oliver Chi, City Manager of Huntington Beach, city officials have tracked and reported specific requests for the Be Well OC van by police officers in certain situations.

Newport Beach has joined the growing list of cities in Orange County that have begun to delegate crisis response to trained professionals separate from the police or even firefighters. The trend arose out of ongoing discussions about police involvement in mental health crisis appeals and whether de-escalation would be best carried out by trained civilians rather than armed agents, especially with regard to the homeless.

At the end of last month, Anaheim police gunned down the cousin of Santa Ana city councilor, Jonathan Ryan Hernandez. Hernandez said he tried to tell officers his cousin was having a mental health crisis and needed a de-escalation, but was fired. Investigations, including one by the state attorney general’s office, are ongoing.

During the council meeting, Jacobs said dispatchers from the city’s police and fire departments would work with the Be Well Crisis Team to determine when that would be appropriate for the team. be present on the scene.

Jacobs said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in the homeless population, with an average of 60 homeless people in the city during the winter and 95 people during the summer. More than 80% of these people live on the streets, of which more than 10% reside in vehicles or recreational vehicles. Less than 40% have been homeless for 3 to 10 years, and more than 10% have been homeless for more than 21 years.

In September, the majority of these homeless were men and were between 45 and 64 years old.

The Be Well program services will be funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act and the city’s general fund, contributing $ 717,079 and $ 376,101 each, respectively, according to Jacob’s presentation. In addition, an anonymous resident donated $ 132,000 to pay for the van and the initial stock of supplies.

Cindy Voorhees, senior priest of St. James’s Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, expressed her support for the service during the meeting.

“I’m dealing with teenagers who wasted time in high school and all of a sudden change their personality,” Voorhees said. “I deal with people who are afraid to call the police because they can trigger problems at home, where a Be Well van would show up with someone in plain clothes and could talk to them and reason with them, the families. would. definitely be able to feel more comfortable with it.

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