The Crisis Solutions Center – a much better alternative to jail or ER

Home » The Crisis Solutions Center – a much better alternative to jail or ER

A few weeks ago I wrote about LEAD, an innovative program for diverting low-level offenders from the criminal justice system and into needed services.

With police officers and a mental health professional inside the Center.

Now I want to thank and congratulate the great team who last week launched another new program designed to help, rather than simply incarcerate or briefly hospitalize, people who suffer from mental illness or addictions.

The Crisis Solution Center (CSC), like LEAD, is another step toward treating people who are in crisis in a comprehensive, compassionate and holistic manner.  The Crisis Solution Center gives police officers and mental health professionals another alternative to taking people to the King County Jail or Harborview. 

Starting today, police officers can take those who are struggling or can’t take care of themselves to the CSC located less than a mile south of Harborview. The CSC is a humane and effective alternative to jail or the emergency room—already overburdened facilities that can be terrifying for the individuals taken there, and very expensive for taxpayers.

The goal of the CSC is to reduce chronic homelessness and unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice and emergency medical systems. Services provided on-site will include mental health and chemical dependency assessment and treatment such as individual and group counseling and medication therapy.

At the Crisis Solutions Center opening with former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, who now leads the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) Executive Director Bill Hobson, and King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Jackie MacLean. (Sue’s T-shirt means “Crisis Intervention Training happens.”)

The Crisis Solution Center has 16 beds and will serve up to 3,600 people a year. Those taken to the facility will have access to a bed, a shower, washers/dryers, and medical help.  The program includes two mental-health professionals who will work out of the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These professionals will aid first-responders with people in the middle of a mental-health or substance-abuse crisis. 

Staying in the facility is voluntary, although mentally ill low-level offenders are likely to be arrested and taken to jail or Harborview if they choose not to participate in the Crisis Solutions Center program.  (At no time will participants be unattended by staff in the neighborhood surrounding the Crisis Solutions Center.)

After being evaluated, prescribed medications and linked with appropriate services at the Crisis Solution Center, men and women will “graduate” to Crisis Diversion Interim Services. This secondary program has 23 beds and is located in the same building.

While in the secondary program, clients will meet with a case manager and work on finding permanent housing. They can also receive visitors in the secondary program.

Here’s how the admissions process will work:

Referrals: The program will receive referrals from any police officer in King County, Medic One Units, County Designated Mental Health Professionals, and hospital emergency room staff. Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) will have signed agreements with these first responders regarding referral expectations, including eligibility, drop-offs and pick-ups.

Arrival: All participants will arrive under the escort of a police officer, DESC Mobile Crisis Team staff, Medic One or ambulance staff, or King County Designated Mental Health Professionals. Arriving vehicles will not use sirens or flashing lights. Referred participants will be received by intake staff of the Crisis Diversion Facility (16 bed, 72 hour program).

Screening: Prior to referral, all potential participants will be screened for violence potential and criminal conviction history in order to rule out individuals with current criminal charges.  Those with assaultive backgrounds and other violent behaviors will not be eligible to stay at the CSC.

Medical conditions exceeding the service capacity of the Crisis Solutions Center will be directed to an emergency room.

I am delighted to see the project at last come to fruition. 

I started working on crisis diversion alternatives nine years ago when I was in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. As Chief of the King County’s Civil Division, I advised and worked closely with the director of the jails, Mental Health professionals as well as the judges who presided over the Mental Health and Drug Courts.

Working with Superior Court judges, and King County Councilmembers Kathy Lambert and Larry Gossett, I served on the committee that created the proposed Crisis Solutions Clinic.  We learned about diversion options from Portland and similar facilities in Washington State, in locations including Pierce, Spokane, Whatcom, Yakima, Skagit, and Thurston counties.

I am truly proud that DESC and its partners have created this safe place for people who need help. Our idea, our hope, is now a reality.

With JoEllen Watson, King County Crisis and Commitment Coordinator. As you can see, low walls afford clients privacy, but also allow staff to glance through the room to ensure that all is well.

Congratulations and thanks to Bill Hobson from Downtown Emergency Services Center and to Jackie McLean, Amnon Schoenfeld, Ian Goodhew, Dan Satterberg, and the King County Councilmembers, members of our own Seattle Police Department and so many other service providers who have made smart and humane decisions to fund this program.