The Sheriff’s Department has established a new Bureau tasked with assisting the homeless population and those with mental health disorders through a robust program that includes proactive engagement, case management, and resource distribution.
The Behavioral Health Bureau, supervised by Captain Nate Wilson, includes six sergeants, eight Homeless Outreach Deputies and approximately 50 Homeless Liaison Deputies assigned to the Sheriff’s Department’s 13 contract cities.
The Bureau evolved from the Department’s previous Homeless Outreach Team program, which launched in November 2016 with two regional teams assigned to proactively work with homeless individuals and strike a balance between providing services and enforcing the law.
Since then, the Sheriff has identified the need to build upon the original program.
“Although many of the homeless individuals we come in contact with report struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorders, this is not an issue specific to the homeless population,” said Sheriff Don Barnes. “The Sheriff’s Department often gets called to respond to help individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis, and we recognized the need to widen our approach.”
While assisting the homeless will remain a core function of the Bureau, the team also has implemented a case management component in which they conduct weekly reviews of all calls in the Sheriff’s Department service area involving an individual experiencing a mental health crisis. They review the scenario and allocate follow-up assignments to determine what resources may be available.
“You often hear of multiple calls to one home with repeated issues with little to no follow-up,” Capt. Wilson said. “This case management practice will bring all those calls under one team to be triaged, reviewed and – if appropriate – assigned a recommended course of action.”
Critical to the success of the Behavioral Health Bureau is the Sheriff’s Department’s collaboration with the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA), which provides representatives to work alongside deputies in the field and during the case review process.
“We are employing a pilot co-responder model that includes a mental health expert, which will help this team be more effective,” Wilson said. “Having the ability to rely on someone with extensive knowledge of mental health issues is an invaluable resource for us. This team would not be successful without HCA’s partnership.”
Building a multi-disciplinary team with additional service providers in the County will be the Behavioral Health Bureau’s next step in helping to provide holistic services. The Bureau will continue to identify partners that will increase the opportunity to help those in need.
The Bureau also is increasing monthly training for team members, which will include a focus on how to handle the many critical incidents they may come across in their role.
Ultimately, Wilson said, the goal of the Behavioral Health Bureau is to create a professional, collaborative, and appropriate response to mental health calls for service with an aim of better connecting people with services and reducing recidivism.
“We want to approach these cases with compassion and we want to provide solutions,” Wilson said. “Of course we will rely on enforcement when criminal violations of law occur, but we hope to provide individuals with a path to get them they help they need.”