Since the implementation of Washtenaw County’s voter-approved Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage in January of 2019, meaningful partnerships have flourished across the county. These partnerships expand access to mental health and substance use treatment services, decrease stigma around mental illness, and allow the county to respond to public safety concerns in new and constructive ways.
When dozens of organizations are dedicated to serving residents’ mental health needs and preserving the community’s public safety, it can be challenging to develop a unified effort. The millage makes that possible by resourcing partnerships that help community-based organizations achieve far more than they could individually. Simultaneously, these millage-funded coalitions inspire and energize partners, ensuring that their efforts focus on the overarching objectives established by Washtenaw County voters.
Lisa Gentz, the millage initiatives program manager for Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH), says that millage resources allow the agency to “coordinate initiatives and fund priorities across the region so we can work in concert with each other instead of in silos. By partnering together, we maximize each other's resources and expertise, so we can spread our efforts more comprehensively.”
Partnerships fuel a more holistic approach to law enforcement.
At the genesis of the millage, architects such as Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, knew that partnerships would be crucial to the millage’s success. “Director Cortes and I started talking early on about how we could work with community partners in a much more efficient and effective way,” says Clayton.
The partnership between Washtenaw County's Sheriff's Office (WCSO) and Community Mental Health (WCCMH) agency “helps build a safer, more sustainable community,” says Clayton, “because we don't think about community problems requiring only a law enforcement intervention.” This expanded view positions the WCSO to think about clients holistically, allowing staff to develop solutions to challenges that consider housing, transportation, behavioral health, and that help the client in a personalized way.
Millage funds enabled the WCSO, for example, to hire a supervision agent, a court service liaison, a drug testing agent, and an administrative coordinator. And millage funds allowed WCCMH to hire a team of peers who help jail-based clients prepare for, and succeed in, the community upon release from jail.
Millage funds also allowed for a significant expansion of reentry services by providing matching dollars for a U.S. Bureau of Justice Grant that helps people successfully enter society after being incarcerated. Two major components of reentry work are connecting recently released prisoners to supportive housing, and supporting the county jail’s use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to reduce recidivism and the likelihood of overdose.
“When the County Sheriff's Office and the jails are more equipped to respond and care for clients’ health, mental health, and housing needs," says Clayton, "the whole county is safer."
Partnerships provide mental health services in the schools.
When the Washtenaw Intermediate School District heard that it would be receiving funding from the state Department of Health and Human Services to add licensed behavioral health providers, the millage stepped in to fill funding gaps. When WISD received funding to “train trainers” to respond to mental health concerns and to provide clinical services to students, the millage allowed WCCMH to fund course materials and coordinate Mental Health First Aid certification courses. In 2020, 16 WISD staff were trained to facilitate Mental Health First Aid courses; each will teach dozens of other staff and community members about ways to appropriately respond to mental illness or substance abuse.
For direct clinical services to students, the millage also provided $58,000. Together with state funding, these millage dollars enabled the schools to hire four behavioral health professionals—Stacey Doyle, Najah Hamka, Brittany Thomas, and Carly Ly—who would be embedded in four districts identified as high need by WCCMH and WISD staff: Milan, Ypsilanti, Saline, and Lincoln. Sarah Hierman, the WISD grants and development manager, says “what I love about the partnership between WISD and the millage is that it really brought us together to figure out how we can best work with young people to have a broader reach.”
“When we fund mental health in this county we show people they matter,” says Stacey Doyle, one of the social workers hired with millage funds. The 31N and millage funding provide the opportunity to serve regular education students who are at higher risk for developing mental health illnesses and to assess students with suicidal or homicidal ideations, says Doyle. She says her biggest hope with her work through 31N funds “is to reduce the number of suicides, to keep our students and our community healthy, alive, and vibrant.”
WISD also has a tight relationship with the WCCMH CARES team—a team of mental health professionals, peer support specialists, case managers, nurses, and psychiatrists assembled using millage dollars. Not only are CARES team members present in the four key WISD schools to support students (pre-COVID they were physically present in schools, now CARES staff serve students remotely), but the 31N funded staff also have a referral relationship with the team.
“We have a great synergy with WCCMH,” says Hierman, “so when students have more intensive needs or are in crisis, we can refer them to the CARES team.”
In addition to providing matching funds for 31N, WCCMH staff recognized that stigma was a critical issue in Washtenaw County. In response, WCCMH awarded $107,000 in mini-grants to 17 WISD schools for student-led anti-stigma campaigns. The importance of campaigns developed by peers with shared identity is unparalleled; millage dollars enabled a campaign led by students, for students. The result? Taking care of your mental health is normalized in schools—students feel less stigma asking for help and have more empathy towards one another.
Not all partnerships are financial.
Hierman isn’t the only one who has had a positive experience with the millage. Amy Heydlauff, chief executive of the 5 Healthy Towns Foundation (5HF), sought out a partnership with WCCMH, as well. The foundation works in five rural areas including four in Washtenaw County: Dexter, Manchester, Chelsea, and portions of Stockbridge, with a mission to “cultivate improvements in personal and community wellness.”
Two years ago, 5HF began to work on a new mental health initiative, called One Big Thing, which is partially funded by Rethink Health. Heydlauff says when she reached out to WCCMH to discuss a partnership, “they were so enthusiastic I couldn’t believe it. It was an amazing beginning.”
Here, the millage partnership is a contribution of time, rather than financial resources. With millage funding covering staff time, WCCMH joined the One Big Thing Stewardship Council with representatives from St. Joe's - Chelsea and University of Michigan Family Medicine. The council meets several times a year to foster integrative relationships, generate ideas, and move programs forward. During early meetings of the Stewardship Council, the focus was learning more about each other’s organizations and the capacity and constraints of each group.
“The more we understand each other's organizations, the more we can put the work on the right organization’s plate,” says Heydlauff. “Some folks are good at one thing, some are good at others, and when working together [we] can do a better job of both things.”
Once Heydlauff learned more about millage and WCCMH services, specifically the CARES team, 5HF helped push those resources out to western Washtenaw County. Most recently, 5 Healthy Towns, WCCMH, and St. Joe's - Chelsea have been working together to develop a program to combat social isolation for youth and senior adults in Manchester and Chelsea.
Millage partnerships don’t stop with what’s mentioned in this story; click the links below to read about others….
In March of 2020, the millage provided grants totaling $1.2 million to four local supportive housing organizations: Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, Avalon Housing, Ypsilanti Housing Commission, and Ozone House. Read more.
In September of 2019, the Washtenaw County Chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness received $158,000 from the millage to train peer leaders to facilitate support groups and local events in Ypsilanti and Whitmore Lake. Read more.
With a $90,000 investment from the millage, the SURE Moms program—designed to unite, support, and empower mothers of justice-involved youth—was extended to more moms across the county. Read more.
In October 2020, the millage funded a “prayer and care” summit, organized by NAMI WC, for members of the clergy to learn about mental health resources for faith communities. Read more.
A partnership between the millage and Corner Health provides behavioral health care for teens and young adults. Read more.
Click here to see a full list of millage partnerships.