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Agencies Want to Tackle Mental Health, Substance Abuse, Homeless Issues Together

Multiple organizations in Wichita that provide mental health, substance abuse and homeless services plan to team up with the police department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office.

They all will work together to prevent people who are seeking care from getting lost in the system.

“Over the last few years, recognizing that with the systems that are siloed … you had mental health, you had substance abuse, homelessness and all of them with different missions and with different monies,” said Harold Casey, executive director of the Substance Abuse Center of Kansas.

“It was common for a client to bounce from one of those to another. Mental health might say you’re too intoxicated, substance abuse might say you’re too mentally ill and they would just bounce back and forth between services.”

The groups hope to streamline the process for those seeking help by possibly offering services in one place in the future.

“Right now, this is the providers of numerous services that take place across the city trying to get all of us on the same page in a general direction where we can provide these services in an area instead of spread out,” Sheriff Jeff Easter said.

While the state provides services for those seeking help with mental health and substance abuse problems, local providers think people recover more quickly in familiar surroundings.

“We believe that people can and do get better closer to home,” said Joan Tammany, executive director of Comcare. “So, while we have some state mental health beds in Osawatomie, it’s hard to get people up there and then when they come home they’re not connected to their community or effectively reintegrating with their families.”

According to Easter, local agencies will also begin a 90-day pilot program where a paramedic, a Comcare worker and law enforcement officer will go out on calls “that deal with drunk individuals, folks that are having a crisis, those type of things.”

“It’s a proactive approach because you have a paramedic there that can clear them medically because that’s one of the biggest obstacles we have is someone to clear them medically before they can get some services,” Easter said.

“Then you have the Comcare worker there hopefully being able to put them on a plan and keep them in place with a plan right up front and following through with it, and then you have law enforcement there in case there’s some type of enforcement need or protection-type need that’s there.”

By doing so, local agencies hope that will reduce call loads for public safety departments. They are receiving guidance from a similar program in Bexar County, Texas.

“We’re not wanting to copy what they’re doing, but pick and choose for our community and that has been very successful,” Casey said, “… but we want to enhance that and continue to develop.”

Kylie Cameron is an intern in the KMUW News Lab.