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Minneapolis’ mental health responders provide alternative to police and ambulances

Unarmed mental health professionals responded to more than 3,300 911 calls in Minneapolis over the first six months of a pilot program meant to reduce the need for police or ambulances for people experiencing mental health crises.

Why it matters: Advocates for the program, which launched in December, says mental health professionals are better equipped to help people in certain situations.

How it works: A city contractor, Canopy Mental Health & Consulting, sends vans of small teams to aid people experiencing mental health crises. The person being assisted must be unarmed, non-violent, and not suffering a medical emergency.

Context: The city responds to about 175,000 911 calls a year. The behavioral health response team is taking a small but growing percentage of them.

Zoom in: In one recent example, responders helped a woman after her husband dialed 911 and said she was suicidal and had been declining medical appointments, Canopy responder Anna Macias told the Minneapolis Public Safety Committee during a presentation Wednesday.

  • The responders helped schedule a doctor’s visit and create a safety plan, and no ambulance was needed.

What they’re saying: Canopy program manager Candace Hanson said at the committee meeting that no staff were harmed doing their jobs, which shows that staff are following protocol and treating community members with “respect and equality.”

What’s ahead: The program was expanded in April, but it still doesn’t have staffing for Saturday and Sunday overnights.

  • On more than 350 occasions over three months, responders showed up and the person in crisis was already gone, which city staff said could indicate they aren’t getting to the scene fast enough due to staffing shortages.

Between the lines: The team currently has 21 staff members, but Hanson is trying to add more. She said she’s having trouble recruiting because candidates have doubts about the city government structure and its commitment to the program.

  • “I don’t want to speak for others, but I think we all are committed to making sure that the residents of our city have this service,” Public Health & Safety Committee chair Latrisha Vetaw (Ward 4) told Hanson.

By the numbers: Canopy is working on a two-year, $6 million contract with the city, which is about 1% of the Minneapolis Police Department’s $196 million annual budget.

Major Jacob Frey has recommended expanding the program to 24/7 in his proposed 2023-2024 budget.

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