Concord City Council to take first steps to strengthen mental health crisis response

Concord City Council to take first steps to strengthen mental health crisis response
A planned expansion of the CORE program and homeless services relies on passage of the Measure V tax increase. (Tamara Steiner photo)

CONCORD, CA—According to Mayor Tim McGallian, extended mental health services for the housed and unhoused populations of the city could be rolled out as early as the end of the year. On Sept. 22, the City Council unanimously directed city manager Valerie Barone to gather all necessary information to consider the approval of the expansion of Contra Costa County’s Coordinated Outreach Referral and Engagement (CORE) program and the establishment of a Mental Health Evaluation team (MHET).

Making CORE team full-time

The CORE program, facilitated by the county, tracks and provides for the needs of the homeless community within county limits in order to stabilize individuals and help them seek permanent shelter. CORE teams do not handle crisis response and defer to 911, but CORE can be reached at 211. Currently, Concord and Walnut Creek share a CORE team due to limited budgets.

CORE served 1,360 people in Concord in 2019, according to Barone’s staff report. After conversations with county leaders, Barone suggested that Concord should fund increased hours for the team – bringing the employees from half-time to full-time – and include a social worker for added expertise. In the report, Barone said she believes ­building on the existing program is the council’s best option.

“We do have a significant problem in Concord around the unsheltered,” McGallian said. “The police department will have the same resources; they won’t always have to be the first one out to the homeless calls. (This) will help separate some jobs here. Some communities have issues with homelessness, but we have a significant amount so our police department ends up spending more than a reasonable amount of time (responding).”

Adapating MHET to suit Concord

The MHET program, only 2½ years old, is a collaboration between the police chiefs of Contra Costa County and county Health Services. It was formed with the goal of supporting those with mental illness and their families through information about outpatient services and assisting them in securing those resources with community safety in mind. The program hosts three teams, with one police officer and one mental health clinician each, that roam Central, West and East County and conduct voluntary interactions with those individuals who have a recent, repeated history of psychiatric crises/police encounters.

McGallian said that Concord has had iterations of a MHET program in the past, where a mental health clinician rode along with a police officer to treat community members collaboratively.

On Sept. 22, the council was in favor of building a MHET program for just Concord in which one Concord police officer and one contracted county mental health clinician would serve both homeless and housed individuals.

McGallian said the city may not replicate the county’s MHET program exactly but use it as a basis to design an agency that works for Concord’s needs. He said no other Contra Costa County city has tried to create its own MHET program.

Measure V money critical

McGallian said that boosting the CORE team’s hours to full-time and adding a social worker could happen nearly immediately after the local leaders hear the item next – if the council votes in the same way it has since the item was first brought up Sept. 8.

However, it would take more time to put together a MHET team. McGallian predicts hiring a mental health clinician could take into mid-2021.

Both the expansion of the CORE team and the introduction of a Concord-specific MHET team rely on the passage of Measure V, a sales tax the council unanimously placed on the November 2020 ballot to help “maintain vital services.” Barone estimates that the enhanced programs would cost the city $600,000 annually.

McGallian noted that this is just the first step of the conversation on how to improve the quality of life of Concord’s homeless population and the area’s response to mental health crises. It is not an “end-all, be-all solution.”

“What we are trying to do is look at putting this first program together,” he said. “I think it really comes down to us trying to be proactive. … We want to make sure we let people know we hear you, we understand you and we are trying to now implement a strategy that makes sense.”

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