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Throughout 2021, the Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage was featured in a number of local publications—and even nationally in Politico. Media mentions like these have a ripple effect, making it possible for the millage to serve as a model for other communities near and far. Here, we highlight some of our favorite stories from the year.
Concentrate writer Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder spoke with Katie Hoener and Sgt John Crastenburg, leaders of Washtenaw County’s Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT), and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, to discuss the positive impact of a joint crisis response team.
"This is an important, immediate service that you might not necessarily know is out there, but it's one that provides longer-term safety and security for the community," says Sgt Crastenburg, who has been on the CNT team since 2013.
Katie Hoener, program administrator for the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health side of the CNT, speaks about what it was like to join the team in 2019.
"It was really about trying to figure out how a successful crisis negotiation team could be successful in a new way. And they were really good about giving us space and the opportunity to insert ourselves," Hoener says.
While WCCMH staff were helping the team before the partnership was formalized, the formalized partnership, “makes it more likely that a person experiencing a mental health crisis will receive the help that they need — both in the moment and through follow-up — rather than finding themselves arrested and perhaps jailed unnecessarily.”
Read the full story at Concentrate.
In 2019, Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage allocated funding to four local housing agencies. Sarah Rigg of On the Ground Ypsilanti speaks with staff reps at each of those four agencies to hear about what they did with the funding.
For Ypsilanti-based Ozone House (which received $360,000), millage funding not only allowed the organization to add four more beds to its transitional housing program, but also to expand the ages of those it serves.
For the Ypsilanti Housing Commission (which received $132,500), millage funds were used to expand the Family Empowerment Program by providing support services at the New Parkridge housing community on Ypsi's south side.
For Avalon Housing (which received $558,000), millage money helped "fill the gap" for people who need supportive housing, but for whom a funding stream hadn't been identified.
And for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County (which received $240,000), millage funding supported a Housing Crisis Stabilization Program.
Read the full story at Concentrate.
In this piece, writer Estelle Slootmaker (Rapid Growth Media) outlines mental health millages recently implemented in four Michigan counties: Ottawa, Jackson, Hillsdale, and Washtenaw.
"The community recognized the problem and put their money where their mouth is,” said Gregory Powers, a senior analyst at the Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT) at the University of Michigan, which supports WCCMH with project management, grant writing, and communications.
“Previously, WCCMH services were concentrated in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. But Washtenaw County's millage has also allowed WCCMH to set up partnerships with community organizations and walk-in clinics to offer services in rural communities like Manchester, Chelsea, Dexter, and Whitmore Lake.”
Slootmaker also highlights how the Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage has funded innovative strategies in the jails to provide much-needed services to people with behavioral health disorders.
“A 2017 U.S. Department of Justice report found that 44 percent of people incarcerated in county jails had a mental disorder.”
“‘Through partnerships with the sheriff's office, we are able to reverse those numbers,’ says Lisa Gentz, WCCMH millage program administrator. ‘We are constantly trying to look at how we can ensure individuals get access to psychiatric care. If law enforcement does need to follow up, then they have the tools to be able to do so and know how to navigate individuals through the mental health system.’"
Read the full story at Rapid Growth Media.
In January 2021, Concentrate writer Estelle Slootmaker covered Washtenaw’s One Big Thing Collaborative, which brings together county leaders to discuss mental health. Leaders include the 5 Healthy Towns Foundation (5HF), Michigan Medicine, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital, and Washtenaw County Community Mental Health.
“The collaborative has helped build new connections with potential for long-lasting impacts on community health. For example, 5HF had never worked with Washtenaw County Community Mental Health before. Amy Heydlauff, CEO of 5HF, believes the new partnership between the two organizations will help her staff better connect community members to mental health services while enabling the agency to reach more people in Washtenaw County's rural communities.”
“5HF funds programs that help residents to eat better, move more, avoid unhealthy substances, and connect with others in healthy ways. The ReThink Health collaboration's initial goal is to address that last point — to increase people's connection to community in order to reduce the loneliness and social isolation that has been proven to negatively impact mental health.”
In 2021, Washtenaw County Community Mental Health with support from the Center for Health and Research Transformation began exploring social isolation in Manchester and Chelsea, MI to help inform future programming aimed at connecting isolated individuals.
Politico, a national news outlet, reports on Washtenaw County's Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage in How a Liberal Michigan Town Is Putting Mental Illness at the Center of Police Reform. Politico author Lynette Clemetson discusses the millage's impact on police reform and diversion, the process of redirecting an individual away from the criminal justice system and into community-based support.
"Over eight years, the tax [millage] is expected to generate $12 million per year to improve overall services, including those between the Sheriff’s office and CMH."
The piece details Anthony Hamilton’s journey with law enforcement, which began in 2009. “Anthony is currently on his 23rd stay in the county jail,” writes Clemetson. “Diagnosed as a child with a host of mental illnesses—anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and other learning issues—Anthony’s adult run-ins with police have followed the highs and lows of his ongoing struggles with mental illness.”
Author Lynette Clemetson asked Washtenaw Sheriff Jerry Clayton what he thought about Anthony’s cycle of incarceration. “He shakes his head slowly in frustration and says, almost inaudibly, ‘Shouldn’t be here.’ When I ask him to elaborate, he returns to his full and commanding voice: ‘It’s not only a criminal justice failure, it’s a societal failure. The criminal legal system is the tool that society uses to carry out its policies. Society’s lack of understanding and sensitivity to mental illness have led to these terrible situations like Anthony’s and many others like him.’”
Politico mentions a few of the accomplishments made possible with millage funding, which have the potential to help people like Hamilton including CMH’s ability to partner with the Ann Arbor Police and other police departments in the county, and new positions that will support the new LEADD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and Deflection) program.
Read the full story at Politico.
Sun Times News writer Doug Marrin speaks with Mayor Johnson and Chief Toth about how the millage-funded CARES team operates in Chelsea, MI.
“Mayor Johnson clarified the two ways that the CARES team becomes involved. Any community member can call CARES themselves. Or, should the police be contacted, the department can call in the CARES team.
Chief Toth added to the Mayor’s observation by explaining that the police will often get a call from a resident concerned over the behavior change they see in someone close, but it’s not a crisis. The police will refer them to CARES and not get involved.”
The CARES team launched in 2019 to provide care to everyone—regardless of insurance status--and one of the team’s key services is crisis intervention. In addition to its home in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County’s CARES team staffs three other locations—Ann Arbor, Whitmore Lake, and Chelsea.
Read the full story at The Sun Times News.
“What happens if someone in Washtenaw County is experiencing a mental health crisis, but just needs a kind word and a safe place to take a nap,” questions Sarah Rigg, a writer for Concentrate and On the Ground Ypsilanti.
“A new crisis observation and assessment center opened in Ypsilanti last summer after the passage of Washtenaw County's Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage. Millage funds were used to renovate a county-owned building at 750 Towner St.—just a few doors down from the main Washtenaw County Community Mental Health building [at 555] Towner. Millage funds were also used to hire and train a medical assistant and peer support specialists who will service the location 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The millage-funded CARES team can refer residents to the crisis center if deemed necessary.
"It's really a tool of our 24-hour local crisis team. They can bring people there instead of a hospital," says Melisa Tasker, program coordinator for CARES. "Sometimes someone doesn't need to be admitted to a locked unit but does need observation and a safe place to stay."
The crisis center is staffed with social workers and peer support specialists—people with lived experience with mental illnesses or substance use who can empathize with people in crisis and offer words of encouragement.