Gazette opinion: State should help support regional safety net

2013-08-08T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: State should help support regional safety net The Billings Gazette
August 08, 2013 12:00 am

So far this year, the Community Crisis Center, 704 N. 30th St., has served more than 600 clients a month. Open 24/7, the nonprofit center welcomes adults from all over Montana who suffer from mental illnesses and chemical addictions. Young, old, most homeless, many veterans. The center’s small staff provides mental health and chemical dependency evaluations, counseling, referral to ongoing community services, meals, showers and a bed for the night. Clients have come from 40 Montana counties.

The people coming into the Crisis Center this year have higher needs than before, Director MarCee Neary said.

“Some nights we’ve had a few empty beds; other nights we’re packed,” she said. “We’re seeing more women than ever before.”

Neary has no explanation for the increase in female clients.

However, the overall increase in crisis cases coincides with the influx of people drawn by the oil boom and needing all kinds of human services in our community.

Training law officers

The Community Crisis Center held a weeklong Crisis Intervention Training for first responders and trained 27 officers from nine counties as far away as Ravalli to respond appropriately and safely to calls involving mentally ill individuals. The center has trained hundreds of Montana officers, emergency medical personnel and dispatchers in CIT over the past seven years.

Just last week, the center began providing after-hours accommodations for Tumbleweed Runaway Program staff to meet with troubled youth. Now, when an officer picks up a runaway youth, she can bring the youth to the Crisis Center to meet a Tumbleweed counselor. The center provides a safe, private office for Tumbleweed.

The Crisis Center also depends on other local helping organizations. For example, Montana Rescue Mission and Salvation Army provide daily meals to Crisis Center clients.

The center was created by a partnership involving RiverStone Health, Mental Health Center, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare. Those founders have continued to provide substantial support.

County levy support

The voters of Yellowstone County also supported the Crisis Center by approving a public safety levy that now provides $700,000 a year — half of the center’s budget.

For the rest of the budget, Neary is constantly writing grant applications. Last year, the center received a $315,000 grant from the state of Montana from a community crisis services appropriation authorized by a 2009 law known as House Bill 130.

The state Department of Public Health and Human Services is now considering how to divvy up the 2014 community crisis appropriation. The Community Crisis Center has requested $315,000, the same amount as last year.

This state grant is very important to the Crisis Center, to Yellowstone County, the surrounding region and the state.

The center offers services regardless to those in dire need regardless of ability to pay. It serves all clients with dignity and professionalism. The center diverts people in crisis from jail and prison and keeps them safe, allowing law enforcement officers to minimize time spent on mental health calls. The center saves the state money by diverting patients from the state’s psychiatric hospital at Warm Springs. When people can walk into the Crisis Center and get immediate help, they usually don’t need to be hospitalized.

11-county region

The board of the 11-county regional Mental Health Center based in Billings recently affirmed its support of the Crisis Center, according to County Commissioner Bill Kennedy who chairs the Mental Health Center board. Kennedy’s fellow board members, most of whom are county commissioners, understand the value of the Crisis Center.

However, the center has to make its case every year to the state to continue HB130 funding. Neary recently reached out to area lawmakers, asking them to consider sending letters supporting the Crisis Center. Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, is organizing a tour for legislators after hearing bipartisan interest.

We encourage legislators to visit the Community Crisis Center and see why their support is so important this year and in future years.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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