FORT BRAGG, CA 11/16/22 — Had it been one degree colder, Fort Bragg’s winter shelter could have started functioning on the first night possible: Tuesday, November 15. Vouchers for motel rooms will be offered on any night from November 15 through April 30 this year when the forecast low is below 40 degrees or the chance of rain is 60 percent or more. Tuesday didn’t quite make the cut: the low was forecast at 40 degrees and no rain was in the forecast.
The Winter Shelter program, approved on the City Council’s consent agenda on Monday night, will work pretty much the same as it did last year, said Fort Bragg Police Chief Neil Cervenka. Two changes: The shelter program has been extended for an extra month, through April, and people seeking shelter will no longer have to go to the police department for the vouchers. Instead, clients will go to the Hospitality Center, Fort Bragg’s shelter for the homeless. If there are no beds there for them, they will be given vouchers to be used at the Motel 6, good for only that day. Cervenka said the newly opened The Plateau at the end of South Street, which includes 20 permanent rental houses for the homeless, has reduced the pressure on the homeless housing situation.
But Cervenka noted that the biggest change is the involvement of the Care Response Unit, composed of two trained social workers, not police officers. The team does include two police officers as backups, as the team can’t cover a 7-day-365 schedule. The CRU team is making connections that will help people avoid homelessness and crisis and find the kind of help they need to keep moving forward in life.
“The CRU team officially got going in July. It’s an entirely different approach, a very holistic approach to crisis care and mental health,” said Cervenka.
These teams of social workers have been deployed in 2,700 communities nationwide ranging from New York City to the rural South, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI). Many mentally ill people live on the streets. When mental hospitals were closed, the promise was made that community treatment facilities would replace them, but that plan was never funded or followed through.
The lack of mental health crisis services across the U.S. has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders to most crises, NAMI says. These programs, called Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) or Special Crisis Units, were part of efforts by police to find ways to prevent crime before it happens and deescalate situations without making arrests. The effort grew after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“These programs create connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency services and individuals with mental illness and their families. Through collaborative community partnerships and intensive training, CIT improves communication, identifies mental health resources for those in crisis and ensures officer and community safety,” the NAMI website states.