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Mental Health, Addiction Services Want Public Safety Money

Billings, Mont., officials have been working for the past year to create mobile response teams through the Fire Department that could dispatch EMTs to service calls for people who are in distress.

Breann Johnson came to MFI Recovery’s women’s rehabilitation center just after Mother’s Day. Johnson, whose 90-day stay is being paid for by Medi-Cal, says she fears what would have happened if she couldn’t get inpatient care for her heroin addiction. "I would either be on the streets or dead," she says.
(Anna Gorman/KHN)
(TNS) - Local organizations Substance Abuse Connect and the Yellowstone County Continuum of Care presented their case for city funding to varying degrees of resistance from the Billings City Council Monday night.

Substance Abuse Connect, a private organization, has been piloting a homeless outreach team project in downtown Billings , partnering with the Downtown Billings Alliance and its resource officers, to steer transient and homeless residents into treatment.

The program's goal has been to reduce the number of calls made to law enforcement and emergency medical service, freeing up those organizations to respond to more pressing public safety issues.

Billings officials have been working for the past year to create mobile response teams through the Fire Department that could dispatch EMTs to service calls for people who are in distress. Substance Abuse Connect has proposed to partner with the fire department's response teams, providing them with a licensed treatment professional, access to a case officer and a counselor.

The mobile response teams was a strategy outlined for the fire department last year by the Center For Public Safety Management. Instead of sending out a full fire truck and crew on certain calls, the department would use a mobile response team crewed by two emergency medical technicians riding in a smaller vehicle.

Continuum of Care , which organized and operated the low-barrier Off The Streets shelter that closed earlier this year, is looking for funding from the city to help operate a new shelter.

Off The Streets was a temporary shelter set during the pandemic to help house the city's transient and vulnerable population who needed quarantine and isolation space due to COVID. It was also used as a low-barrier shelter for those who didn't meet the requirements for the city's other sheltering services.

The Billings Crisis Center provides immediate crisis care and connects individuals with a case worker and services within a 24-hour stay. The Montana Rescue Mission (MRM) provides shelter, training and services for those looking to get sober and find work.

For those in Billings who aren't quite ready for the MRM's programs and don't need the immediate care of the Crisis Center, Off The Street served as a vital stop-gap.

Continuum of Care is eager to bring some type of that service back; while the shelter was operating from fall 2020 to earlier this year, Billings Police saw a significant drop in service calls in the area where the shelter was located.

Off the Streets ended up having to shutter early because of a ruptured sewer line in the basement.

Continuum of Care is a coalition of 35 local organizations and government entities that assist, manage or treat members of Billings' vulnerable and transient populations. It operates as a function of the U.S. Department of Housing Development and track the people served through its partnering organizations using a coordinated entry system. The system allows providers to see who's getting help and where.

The funding for the two programs pitched by Substance Abuse Connect and Continuum of Care comes from a number of community partners. Both organizations hope the city's new $7.1 million public safety mill levy, which voters passed in November, will be a part of it.

City Council is currently debating whether it will cash in the two of the mills that were dedicated to mental health and addiction recovery services. The two mills are worth $400,000 and were reserved specifically to fund local mental health and substance abuse treatments.

Some council members have argued that the city shouldn't levy the two mills until council has decided specifically how to use the funds it would generate. Other members have argued that the need to better fund these services is clear and that programs already exist on which the city could utilize the money.

©2022 the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.