In what they view as first steps in creating more comprehensive capability to respond to calls for help related to homelessness and mental health, Concord City Council members on Tuesday approved moving ahead with establishing local teams to do that.
The council voted unanimously to begin work to create its own Mental Health Evaluation Team to work full-time within Concord, and to expand the Coordinated Outreach Referral and Engagement (CORE) homeless outreach team from half-time to full-time.
CORE teams serve as the main entry point into the county’s programs to help the homeless. The CORE team that covers Concord and Walnut Creek was created in 2017; Concord officials want to expand the Concord side of that from half-time to full-time. The city will now approach Contra Costa County, which administers the CORE teams, about creating a Concord-only CORE team.
Also in 2017, Contra Costa Health Services and county police chiefs joined to form the Mental Health Evaluation Team program, with teams in east, west and central Contra Costa. Each team consists of an assigned local police officer and a county mental health clinician. Concord aims to form its own MHET team, as well.
Council members said they see these teams as providing more specialized responses to calls for which police alone are not always equipped to handle.
“I want a mental health team going out when there’s a mental health crisis,” Councilman Edi Birsan said.
Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer said she believes a medical professional should be part of the Concord CORE team, and supports adding that element as the plan moves forward. She called Tuesday’s decisions “the next logical step” in improving response to homelessness and mental health calls.
Taking baby steps
Mayor Tim McGallian said the city can take “baby steps” now, and build on both programs later.
As in several other Contra Costa cities, Concord leaders have been under pressure to de-emphasize police spending and move some of those resources to social services, including homeless and mental health services. And a number of call-in public commenters told the council Tuesday these steps don’t go nearly far enough, given the need.
“This is kind of a band-aid,” Cora Mitchell said. “And this is a large-scale problem.”
Mara Berton said residents don’t want expansion of existing programs, but something reimagined. “I think what’s on the table now doesn’t really do that.”
But Vice Mayor Dominic Aliano said “the city of Concord does not have the time or the funds” to create new programs from scratch, which is why the city is looking to build upon the existing county framework for both programs.
Money to pay for these new programs — about $200,000 a year for the Mental Health Evaluation Team and doubling the CORE team cost from about $100,000 to about $200,000 — hasn’t been identified. Possible sources include revenue from Measure V, an extension and increase of a local sales tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, or from city reserve funds.
Concord officials will now approach Contra Costa Health Services about the proposals; McGallian said he hopes more details will be back before the council within the next two months.
Other cities are paying attention, he said.
“For us to take the first step, a lot of our neighbors will be watching to see how it would work,” McGallian said.