NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- People suffering a mental health crisis are often seen walking the streets here in Southern California. Now, local communities have launched a program that takes mental heath care to those who need it.
The Be Well OC Mobile Response Team recently began working with the city of Newport Beach to take mental health help directly to those who need it.
"They've been coming down here, they were actually looking for me the other day" Jason Olson said.
Olson is an unhoused citizen living in Newport Beach. He says that having someone look out for him in case he needs help feels "pretty groovy."
Under the Be Well OC program, mobile teams of crisis counselors work 12 hour days, seven days a week responding to mental health calls to the police department or 911. The most visible contacts will involve the city's homeless population, but the ability to provide mobile mental health care can benefit anyone in the city.
"They're able to go all over the city, 52 square miles and go into people's homes, go into businesses or meet people where they are, literally on the street," Newport Beach homeless coordinator Natalie Basnaciyan said.
The program's first-year cost of just over $1.2 million, helped in part by an anonymous donation from a Newport Beach resident, covered the cost of the van. That allows for teams to be used as a responder unit, dispatched directly to a scene to provide transport in some cases but primarily direct mental health intervention.
"We're able to deescalate that and often transport them voluntarily to services, so we avoid the trauma of hospitalizing someone against their will," director of mobile response services Anthony Delgado said.
Most of the contacts with the mobile response team are people who have mental health issues right now, but not all of them. In many cases the contact is to simply build a connection and trust with people who might need help in the future.
Some contacts will be taken to a crisis center or a detox facility as needed. That is not always necessary. In one case, a woman walking barefoot down a busy Newport Beach street simply needed someone to care.
"She was emotional back here," HOPE mobile supervisor Alyssa Guerrero said. "She was very emotional because she believes in the power of three and look what happened, three women showed up and helped her and it got her to a place where she feels safer and more comfortable and she doesn't have to be walking with blisters anymore."
The early results have been so positive, other cities have been reaching out in the hope of starting similar programs as soon as possible.
"The success has been so obvious that everybody wants a van in their city right now and unfortunately we don't have the capacity or capability to do that," Delgado said. "We want to insure that every city gets the best that they can have."
The Be Well OC Mobile Crisis Response Team is currently available in Huntington Beach, Garden Grove and Newport Beach with plans to add an additional two cities in Orange County.