A mobile response team for mental health crises will begin serving Evanston on Monday.

The service, provided by Chicago-based Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare, will also respond to calls in Skokie, Rogers Park, and several other communities.

“We’re excited,” says 5th Ward Alderman Bobby Burns  “It’s a huge advancement in mental health emergency response care.”

Burns tells Evanston Now that the program is funded primarily by a state grant, and also with money raised by Trilogy, a non-profit social service agency.

“We don’t have to pay anything,” Burns says.  Neither do those who call and use the service, designed as an alternative to sending police officers or firefighters on certain calls.

Evanston had once considered funding its own alternate program, where social workers would handle some specific calls instead of police, but that never materialized.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said the State of Illinois solicited mental health providers at the same time Evanston was trying to ramp up its program, and the state was able to offer larger grants.

Revelle says “it’s great” that Trilogy is coming here, starting with a “soft launch” to make sure everything runs smoothly.

“What is mobile crisis response?,” a Trilogy flier says.

The answer: It’s a way to “help people get support and stay safe without needing to call 911 or go to the hospital when unnecessary just to access care.”

A two-person clinical team will respond, help the person in crisis deal with the immediate situation, and work on a plan for long-term help.

There are limits.  The Trilogy team is dispatched after the agency’s hotline (800-322-8400) is called.  It is not linked to the city’s 911 center.

Plus, at least to start, the mobile service will only be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 430 p.m.

Long term, and it’s unclear how long that is, both Burns and Revelle hope the Trilogy team can be better integrated into the city’s emergency services, perhaps by having 911 dispatchers transfer appropriate calls to Trilogy.

Something like that will have to evolve, Revelle says.  “We need the 911 dispatchers to have the training” to send a Trilogy response “instead of an armed police officer,” she notes.

Also long term, Revelle says, “the goal is mental health crisis response 24 hours a day.”

Another hope is for Evanston to have what’s known as a “living room,” a bricks and mortar site where mental health services and referrals are available.  Patients can be taken there in some instances by the crisis team instead of to a hospital.

There is currently such a “living room” in Skokie.  Revelle says Evanston has a building in mind here, although it may take several months to become operational.

Evanston did set aside $200,000 for the local response program which never happened. 

Revelle says those dollars, plus some federal COVID relief money, could be used to expand the Trilogy program in Evanston and set up the “living room.”

City Council will discuss the mental health response issue on Monday.

Trilogy says their response team will “support local police” by reducing their volume of mental health calls.  Agency CEO Samantha Handley says “Our Alternative Crisis Response Team will do more to provide critical crisis intervention here in Evanston in the moments when it is needed most.”

“I was skeptical at first,” says Burns, about the Trilogy program.  ‘But this looks good,” he adds.

There is another program on the horizon as well.  Illinois is working on a “988” mental health hotline.

The plan is for 988 to become a nationwide number for suicide prevention and mental health response, similar to 911 for police, fire, and EMS calls.

“The whole country is recognizing this is an important need,” Revelle says.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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