Vans from the CAHOOTS alternative response program in Eugene, Oregon. (White Bird Clinic photo)

Evanston’s Human Services Committee tonight is scheduled to discuss a report that calls for hiring two peer support workers and contracting with an outside agency for two clinical social workers to provide a non-police response to mental health issues.

The report says the pilot program would operate from mid-afternoon through the evening hours, based on an analysis of when the police department receives the majority of its calls for mental and behavioral health services.

The report concludes that the city’s planned funding of $200,000 for the pilot program is insufficient to have the clinical social workers on staff. With salary and benefits, each of those positions would likely cost more than $100,000 a year and that they could contracted to work through an outside agency for less.

However the report says the peer support workers should be city employees, and could be hired for substantially less than the social workers, perhaps in the range of $78,000 each with pension and benefit costs.

The report suggests that the new team should be part of the Health and Human Services Department. It also recommends against using a co-responder model — in which police would accompany the alternative response team on calls.

It also suggests that at least one of the clinical social workers should be fluent in Spanish.

It also recommends that the police department’s 911 staff be trained by CAHOOTS, the alternative response program pioneered over 30 years ago by the White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon.

That program has a $2.1 million annual budget. It claims to handle 20% of 911 calls and to have achieved $15 million a year in cost savings through decreased law enforcement costs and diversions from hospital emergency rooms.

Update 2/2/21: The committee reviewed the report and made generally favorable comments. Members of the subcommittee that developed the report said they will keep meeting to refine the plan over the next couple of months. No action taken. Unclear when the proposal might reach the full City Council for action.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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