A potential crisis diversion center in Orange County hit one of its first major milestones on Aug. 12, where architectural firms and crisis service providers submitted applications for their roles in the project.
The crisis diversion center provides alternatives to incarceration or hospitalization for people with behavioral or mental health problems. Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Director Kathleen Fenhagen said construction could begin within the next two years.
The Crisis/Diversion Facility Subcommittee under the Orange County Behavioral Health Task Force is leading the effort to develop the center. This subcommittee includes representatives from the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Police Department Crisis Unit, Orange County EMS and UNC Health Care, among others.
A 24-hour center that primarily serves patients after contact with law enforcement or emergency medical services, walk-ins are also accepted.
The center provides links to medical and social services as well as criminal justice and medical services. The Crisis/Diversion Facility Subcommittee used best practices and treatments in Buncombe and Wake counties as a reference.
Consultants and partners for the institute will be chosen in the coming months, and the site for the building will be chosen by December. The final design will be completed early next year, and Fenhagen said the facility could be up and running within three years – although this is a tentative schedule.
“The facility was intentionally designed to be very welcoming and blend into the landscape wherever the site is located,” said Deputy County Manager Travis Mirren.
In April 2019, more than 30 stakeholders in Orange County met to assess gaps in Orange County’s criminal justice system. One issue that has been discussed is whether there is any denial of service that allows law enforcement to relocate those who cannot be better served in a jail or emergency room.
A sub-committee of the institute was formed later in 2019 to develop a center that fills the gaps identified by stakeholders.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said the facility is a great help to those in need because no one is prevented from getting help.
“I think this facility, when it exists, is a perfect compliment to all the very smart programming that has been going on in Chapel Hill and our county for so long,” Blue said. “But in the absence of such a facility, we could not fully realize those philosophies.”
According to the subcommittee’s report, it will divert about 400 cases to the center each month, reduce emergency room congestion and costs, and help provide appropriate services to patients outside the criminal justice system.
Fenhagen said the diversion center will help reduce the number of people who are taken to detention centers due to lack of funds and other options.
In addition to providing services at the facility, she said, the staff connects patients with other resources in the area. The Homelessness and Harm Reduction and Diversion Program, one such resource, helps people experiencing homelessness find housing and support.
The CHPD Crisis Unit, a social worker organization that responds to calls with law enforcement; It recently hired its first peer support specialist. – Licensed professional with knowledgeable behavioral health experience.
Fenhagen said the diversion facility will be staffed by these peer support specialists who can combat the stigma surrounding behavioral health.
“Behavioral health concerns don’t just affect people involved in the criminal justice system,” she said. “It hits everyone, regardless of your social status, your age. It’s just a constant struggle to teach everyone that this stigma should not exist.”
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