People with mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed in encounters with police, according to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center. The community in Eugene, Ore., is working to change that statistic with its use of Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), a specialized mental health emergency intervention team trained to de-escalate dangerous situations and provide care for people with mental illnesses.
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During Mental Health Awareness Day in October, CBS News followed CAHOOTS during its daily tasks. The group, founded in 1989 is currently one of the only of its kind, but that is poised to change. City leaders from Oakland, Calif., and New York City are considering similar programs. In April, officials in Olympia, Wash., introduced the Crisis Response Unit (CRU), which responded to 700 calls in its first two months.
CAHOOTS specialists include medics and mental health crisis managers, none of whom are armed. They answer calls relating to crises like overdoses and suicide. They mostly work without police backup. A recent study found anywhere from a quarter to a half of police-involved shootings include people with mental illness.
One woman CBS interviewed, believed to have schizophrenia, said CAHOOTS also helps her when she is hungry or in other times of need.
Last year, CAHOOTS responded to nearly 23,000 calls in Eugene and Springfield, Ore., according to CBS. CAHOOTS responds to 20% of the public safety call volume in the area. A need for a mental health-first response became apparent when the city realized how many mental health crises are reported through 911 and non-emergency lines.
The goal of CAHOOTS and similar programs is to keep people with mental illness safe and out of jail. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails each year. In jail, NAMI reports, people are less likely to receive the treatments they need, which can worsen their conditions. A criminal record can make it difficult for someone to find a job or housing, which leads to many people with mental illness who have been arrested becoming homeless and often re-arrested.
At least 83% of jail inmates with a mental illness did not have access to needed treatment, according to NAMI.
Federal data recently revealed that Eugene, Ore., leads the country in homelessness rates per capita.
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“They don’t need jail,” Eugene police chief Chris Skinner told CBS. “What they need is they need to be able to be de-escalated from their crisis, they need a ride to a mental-health facility or to a medical-care facility or wrapped around with services. That’s what the people need. They don’t need to be going to jail every time.”
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