The big, blue van in the middle of the Huntington Beach Civic Center plaza had its doors flung open, inviting people to peer inside.
Anyone who did saw a few seats — a set-up somewhat similar to an ambulance but without the equipment for a medical emergency.
On the exterior, the words “Hope HAPPENS HERE” are in giant, white letters.
Marshall Moncrief, the CEO of Mind OC, the nonprofit staffing the van for the city, said he wanted people to know exactly what the van is and who it serves: Anyone who needs mental-health help.
“We want to start addressing the stigma of (mental health), because these are problems that we all have,” he said.
“One morning you could be in Seacliff, serving someone who lives in a $5 million home,” he said of staffers. “You’re in their living room at 10 in the morning.
“And the next morning, you’re in Central Park at 8 a.m. serving someone who’s been living in the bushes.”
Since starting last month, the Be Well OC van — staffed with two crisis counselors — has rolled to about 330 calls in Huntington Beach.
The city has one van but officials are exploring getting another.
Huntington Beach’s one-year pilot program, which is costing the city $1.5 million, could be a test case for how this program could work in other Orange County cities.
In Huntington Beach, the mental-health crisis team works alongside the other emergency services: Police, fire and paramedics.
When someone calls 911, city dispatchers determine if the call sounds too dangerous for an unarmed mental-health clinician to handle; if so, police are dispatched.
After George Floyd’s death by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota and other cases in which civilians were killed by law enforcement in illegal or at least questionable circumstances, there has been a push by some municipalities to not send officers to some calls, in part to reduce tension and possible conflict.
For now, the service operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those hours could be expanded to around the clock. The mental-health team could end up responding multiple times for the same person.
The program closely replicates the CAHOOTS one pioneered in Eugene, Oregon back in 1989. CAHOOTS stands for “Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets.”
Supervisor Katrina Foley, who was at Thursday’s press conference, wants the county to “step up and provide this service.”
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the program “does not divert funding” from the Police Department. She said officers need the help, with city police responding to about 15,000 calls a year that include a mental-health element.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who also attended the press conference and is a big supporter of the program, decried “mass incarceration.”
“For too long we’ve relied on law enforcement to fix all of society’s problems,” Spitzer said. “We put people in prisons and jails so we can forget about them.”
Moncrief, the CEO of Mind OC, said the hope is that Be Well OC will expand and address the needs of many Orange County residents that have been ignored for too long.
“This is for the 60 to 70 percent of calls that don’t need a police response,” he said.
Source: Orange County Register