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The mental health crisis team that serves Evanston is about to become more available, more often.

The program, called FACT (First-response Alternative Crisis Team) becomes a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week operation on Aug. 29. Right now, the service, which began in January, only operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

And while it’s just a coincidence, round-the-clock availability of the response team closely coincides with the rollout of the nationwide 988 mental health crisis hotline, which kicked off this past Saturday.

“We’re thrilled to see 988 finally become available” said Samantha Headley, president and CEO of Trilogy, Inc., the agency that provides the response team in Evanston.

In a statement to Evanston Now, Handley said “A coordinated response to mental health crisis and suicide prevention will be a huge asset to people across Illinois,” and will help save lives.

The Trilogy FACT team is designed to send trained mental health specialists to help those in crisis and reduce reliance on the police, freeing up officers for other calls.

Since the startup in January, Trilogy says, the team has taken nearly 560 calls from the coverage area, Evanston, Skokie, and the Chicago neighborhoods of Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown, and West Ridge.

The largest number of calls — 38% of the total — have been from Evanston.

Now that 988 is in place, those in crisis can either call that number, or, in the local response area, also use the existing Trilogy hotline, 1-800-FACT-400.

Once someone dials the easier-to-remember 988, it goes to a centralized call center. If immediate mobile response is needed here, the call is transferred to Trilogy

According to Trilogy, 78% of the 1-800-FACT-400 calls to date came from “people experiencing an episode of acute psychosis, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, acute substance abuse crisis, or other crises,” calls which otherwise would have gone to police or fire at 911.

So far, only one local response has been generated though 988, although that number will likely increase as it becomes better known, with fewer calls going to the old number. But callers will get the same services either way.

Another mental health program for Evanston is under development, although it probably will not be up and running for at least a year.

Called the “Living Room,” the concept, modeled after after a program in Skokie, provides just that … a home-like environment where people experiencing a negative mental health episode can go for counseling, referrals for service and just for a place to calm down and talk to someone.

Turning Point Behavioral Services operates the Skokie “Living Room,” and will do the same in Evanston.

While it will take time to renovate the house (near Ascension St. Francis Hospital), and even more time to hire staff and gear up the programs, Sarah Flax, the city’s Housing and Grants Manager, told Evanston Now that even though “it’s going to be awhile, nobody wants to sit on the time frames.” In other words, everyone will move as quickly as possible.

While the “Living Room” is not inexpensive (there’s a $900,000 city grant to fix up the house and run the program for the first year), Turning Point CEO Ann Raney told Evanston Now that it is far cheaper to have a “Living Room” than to serve clients in a different room — the hospital emergency room.

Raney said the Skokie facility has had some 3,500 visits in its 11 year existence She says that saved about $5 million in hospital health care costs.

The “Living Room” is not a residential center. No one stays there overnight.

Raney also said that Turning Point hopes to have a mobile van, not for hotline responses, but rather to tour Evanston with answers to mental health questions.

Between 988, the mobile response team, and the upcoming “Living Room,” mental illness is finally getting more attention.

“We have a really good chance,” said Raney, “of helping a lot of people in ways we don’t even know yet.”

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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