City funds new program to help mentally ill homeless

Created: 05/27/2014 6:12 PM
By: Kai Porter, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The city is trying a new approach to tacking the mental health crisis in Albuquerque’s homeless population.

Mayor Richard Berry announced Tuesday the city is helping to fund an outreach team that will intervene when homeless people are experiencing a mental health crisis. The team will be run by the St. Martin’s Hospitality Center and will also be able to recommend treatment options on the spot.

“When someone at 8:00 p.m. is out on the street having a mental health issue, we can send people to get them help and then get them into the service the next day,” said Father Rusty Smith, Executive Director of St. Martin’s Hospitality Center.

Father Smith knew James Boyd, the mentally ill homeless man shot and killed by Albuquerque police officers earlier this year.

Father Smith said this new outreach team may have saved Boyd’s life had it been in place.

“What I see happening today is what if at 5 p.m., officers could have called St. Martin's Mental Health Resource Team and had mental health competent workers working in partnership with them to de-escalate and get service for Mr. Boyd.”

Mayor Berry said about 70 percent of the city’s homeless are suffering from mental illness or drug addiction. In many cases those people don’t know where to go to get the appropriate treatment.

“Recent events have highlighted a number of concerns and gaps in services within our community, not the least of which are frequent lack of connections to mental health services for an often difficult to reach segment of our population,” Mayor Berry said.  “Through this program, we intend to reach more men and women who may otherwise be in and out of the justice system when what they really need are tailored treatment services to address their underlying mental health issues and other resources to meet their basic needs.”

The Department of Family & Community Services will initially allocate $50,000 per year to provide this service. 

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