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2017-02-15 / Top News

Mental illness and homelessness is not a crime

Haven For Hope: Solutions for the ‘root causes of homelessness’
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Today Managing Editor


National American University Campus across from the Pennington County Jail considered as a facility that may house the Crisis Care Center. 
Photo by Andrea Trujillo National American University Campus across from the Pennington County Jail considered as a facility that may house the Crisis Care Center. Photo by Andrea Trujillo RAPID CITY –– Imagine a multi-acre one stop shop campus that offers food, clothing and shelter for the homeless, residential facilities, substance abuse rehabilitation, mental health services, job training, education, vision, dental and other health services, parenting courses, childcare services, spiritual services as well as computer and financial literacy classes.

Such a place would offer hope to the countless homeless and mentally ill living in Rapid City especially considering the recent announcement by Rapid City Regional Hospital officials that they will be closing their doors to certain mentally ill patients when Rapid City Regional West is at capacity, and will instead call the sheriff’s office to take them to jail.

Hope is what Psychologist Gilbert Gonzalez from San Antonio, Texas brought to the table at a recent Collective Impact gathering – hope that better solutions exist than placing mentally ill patients behind bars. During a meeting at the Dahl Fine Arts Center on February 2, Gonzalez shared the “Haven For Hope” model with an audience of 200 Rapid City stakeholders.


DR. GILBERT GONZALEZ DR. GILBERT GONZALEZ Haven For Hope is a community within a community, a 22 acre campus just west of downtown San Antonio that “offers a place of hope and new beginnings.” Their mission is to address the root causes of homelessness.

According to a press release from Collective Impact, Gonzalez, Bexar County Department of Behavioral and Mental Health Director, is one of the architects of the Haven for Hope concept.

When Baxter County was at risk of being sanctioned by state and federal officials because of overcrowding in their jail and considered building another jail, Gonzales and others, who believed that homelessness is really a symptom of deeper issues such as trauma, addiction and mental illness, intervened.

“Putting people in jail because there is no treatment is effectively criminalizing mental illness,” Gonzales recently told the Rapid City Journal. “I think it is really the wrong message, the wrong approach."

In the early 2000s San Antonio’s core behavioral health group’s first step was to facilitate Crisis Intervention Training for city and county law enforcement officials, often the first people to be called on to deal with individuals in crisis. The goal was prevent those who were mentally ill, not criminals, from entering the jail system Gonzalez told the Collective Impact group.

In 2008, the Restoration Center opened its doors with licensed mental health professionals who provided mental health assessments for crisis walk-in customers and people brought in by law enforcement. Since opening, nearly 50,000 people have been treated, saving the law enforcement more than 100,000 manpower hours that can now be spent on the streets, saving taxpayers more than $50 million.

Behavioral mental health disorders they deal with include bipolar, schizophrenia, major depression, post traumatic stress, personality disorders, alcoholism and drug use.

Currently in South Dakota many individuals with behavioral mental health issues seeking treatment must wait months for openings at facilities. The State of South Dakota, the only state in the union with an ingestion law, currently holds many of its mentally ill patients in need of treatment in prisons and jail cells instead. Some mentally ill people have been shot to death by Rapid City police officers with little or no training in dealing with the mentally ill.

In 2010, the Haven For Hope campus was opened. The 22-acre facility is divided into the Prospects Courtyard which currently sleeps roughly 700 people a night, and the Transformation campus which sleeps 850 people a night and provides long term care. Haven For Hope, through their partners provides, substance abuse rehabilitation, mental health services, job training, education, vision, dental and other health services, parenting courses, childcare services, spiritual services as well as computer and financial literacy classes.

The focus of the Haven For Hope experience is engagement and getting people on track with the wrap around services they need to overcome homelessness.

To address the root causes of homelessness Haven For Hope partners with 91 organizations, 31 on campus which include; the Center for Health Services which provides housing, substance abuse and mental health services and operate the courtyard; the San Antonio Food Bank which provides meals and an opportunity for members to achieve a certification in Culinary Arts; St. Vincent de Paul Society which provides meals for Courtyard guests; San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic, YMCA of Greater San Antonio and Centro Med which provides medical services to name just a few of their 31 onsite partners. They also work with an additional 60 partners off site that provide a wide array of services.

Gonzales told the Collective Impact group that it was important for Bexar County leadership to understand that “providing treatment for a person doesn’t mean they’re fixed” and that some people need help for their entire lives. Still, he says, it’s more cost-effective for cities and counties to provide that help.

“It does not pay to believe you can provide treatment in the county jail or the back of a police car,” Gonzales said.

According to Collective Impact “Haven boasts results that would make any community take notice. Since 2010, the organization’s data shows nearly 3,000 people moving out of homelessness into homes, almost 5,000 getting off the streets into higher levels of care, an 80 percent reduction in the number of homeless in the downtown area, more than $96 million in cost avoidance in jails, courtrooms and emergency rooms, a significantly reduced jail recidivism rate and 1,000 empty jail beds.”

Collective Impact said Gonzales had visited Rapid City six years ago to talk about the Haven for Hope, and that three small groups from Rapid City visited the San Antonio campus. The Rapid City Police Department and Pennington County Sheriff’s Office then began implementing Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement officers here, and a coalition formed to create the Crisis Care Center, located on North Street which functions in a manner similar to that of Haven’s Restoration Center providing intervention services to adults experiencing mental health or substance abuse crisis.

Collective Impact also shared that the Pennington County Commission approved plans late last year to reconstruct the former National American University building on Kansas City Street into a facility that will house the CCC, several safe beds, detox and other programs. In the wake of that decision, Rapid City Collective Impact and several community partners began to consider again the Haven model – with its comprehensive, coordinated services – as a possible means of reducing homelessness in Rapid City and providing a one-stop shop for community members who could benefit from continued access to wrap-around services. Further exploration of the idea will likely take place in the coming weeks.

Currently plans are underway for another group to visit the Haven For Hope Campus in San Antonio.

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at executiveeditor@nativesunnews.today)

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