The proposed site of the "living room" at 311 Elmwood Ave. on the St. Francis Hospital campus. (Google Maps image)

Plans to create a “living room” in Evanston to provide emergency care to persons experiencing mental health crises drew a welcoming reception from City Council members Monday night.

Representatives of non-profit agencies that are collaborating on the proposal spoke at the meeting.

Patti Capouch, CEO of Impact Behavioral Health Partners.

Patti Capouch, CEO of Evanston-based Impact Behavioral Health Partners, said the living room facility, combined with the mobile crisis response team program that Trilogy launched this week under a state grant, could really address emotional health needs that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ann Raney, CEO of Skokie-based Turning Point, which has operated a living room in Skokie for a decade, said it’s a place for psychiatric respite where any adult in crisis is welcome and the service is free to clients.

Guests are screened for safety, she added, and welcomed by a recovery support specialist — an adult with a lived experience of mental health recovery.

She said the programs demonstrate respect for the client during times of crisis with a focus on what the guest wants and needs.

The Skokie program, she said, has had a 99% success rate at helping guests resolve their problems without needing an emergency room visit or other higher levels of care.

“Because it’s confidential and restorative,” she said, guests “can return to their homes, families, jobs and daily lives.”

Jonathan Nieuwsma.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said, “I’m really supportive of this concept.”

“It’s a perfect use of ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] money” to provide upfront capital for the project and some initial operating money, he added.

But Nieuwsma said he wanted to have long-term sources of revenue identified before the program is approved, “so it doesn’t go off the rails when the ARPA money runs out.”

The “living room” program is seen as a way to reduce the use of hospital emergency rooms as a response to persons experiencing mental crises.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said that in his teenage years and his early 20s he struggled with mental health issues — depression and anxiety attacks that led to some emergency room visits “where I did not feel like I received the services I needed.”

Burns said he wanted to make sure that the new program was big enough to meet the needs in the community.

City staff have estimated that it would cost about $225,000 to renovate a bungalow at 311 Elmwood St. on the edge of the St. Francis Hospital campus to house the living room program and about $650,000 to operate it for a year.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the program “has huge potential in terms of cost savings for the hospitals.”

But he said he was concerned about how the city’s provision of hotel rooms for the homeless early in the pandemic — “while it did something really good during a time when people really needed it” — seems to have increased the number of homeless people in the city and the amount of crime.

He said he wanted to make sure the living room program would prioritize Evanston residents and not become a magnet for people coming from outside the community.

While the proposal was just up for discussion Monday, Mayor Daniel Biss said he expects to bring back the concept for Council action with specific proposed funding and governance structures and responses to other questions raised during the discussion.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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