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Crisis Relief Centers — our testimony

Submitted to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on February 21 —

My name is Susan Cozzens. I am writing on behalf of Quaker Voice on Washington Public Policy to support SB 5120, “Establishing 23-hour crisis relief centers in Washington State.”

As Quakers, we work towards a society in which every person’s potential can be fulfilled. The gaps in our current systems to address behavioral health crises mean that too many people fall into the cracks when they ask for help. The crisis relief centers that this bill would authorize offer one important way for us to reach out a hand and help them over instead.

I live in Redmond. On November 22, an employee from a local food establishment called 911 on behalf of a customer who had asked for transportation to a mental health facility. It was 6:30 in the evening. Redmond’s mental health professional was not on duty, nor was our homeless outreach coordinator. The 911 dispatcher sent Redmond police.

But there was no place the police could take or send the individual. He had no address to go home to. He did not need emergency room treatment. The shelters were likely full for the night and in any event were not the right place for someone asking for help with a mental health condition. The police, being police, did not have access to the Eastside database where information on contacts with such needy individuals is shared. They eventually proposed sending him by ambulance to a hospital, a very expensive option that would have been unlikely to address his needs.

The new crisis relief center under development for Kirkland, our next-door community, would have been a huge help, both to this individual and to the Redmond police, especially if combined with the non-police community response capability Redmond is trying to establish. Trained responders with their own comfortable cars could have taken him to a warm, safe place nearby. Drop-off would be easy. Other professionals there would have worked with him during the next 23 hours and 59 minutes to move on to his next step, something appropriate to his mental and physical condition. They would have reached out the hand to help him over the gap.

The other part of this story is that the individual had been accused by a nearby convenience store of taking some food. When the police arrived, they handcuffed him while they checked on the accusation. This did not help his mental condition. They eventually took off the handcuffs and offered the ambulance, but at that point – understandably – he decided to depart by bus.

Others in Quaker Voice have also come forward with their own stories – a daughter who spent two years in prison after being swept into the criminal justice system during a mental health crisis; a social worker who had to take personal steps to get medication to someone who was sent back into the streets from a hospital emergency room without the supports they needed. I am sure there are many more. If we have these stories in our lives, they are probably in yours as well.

We urge you to pass SB5120 and give Washington a chance to offer a badly needed helping hand.



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