Olympia’s new crisis response team gets 700 calls, mostly to homeless

Jun 3, 2019, 7:24 AM | Updated: 10:43 am
Olympia Crisis Response Unit...
Olympia's crisis response team has been active in its first two months of officially operating. (City of Olympia)
(City of Olympia)

Olympia’s Crisis Response Unit only officially launched in April, but already it’s found itself taking calls numbering in the hundreds, primarily to the city’s homeless population.

Seattle adds to Navigation Team, expands homeless outreach efforts

The team is designed for mental health outreach throughout the state capital, dealing in crisis counseling, conflict resolution, substance abuse, mental health, first aid, transportation to services, and more.

According to a report from The Olympian, the CRU has already fielded 700 calls in just two months of official operations (the team has been on the streets in an unofficial capacity since January). A “vast majority” of those calls had the CRU in contact with homeless experiencing mental health issues.

“More than half” of those calls were made by CRU members, 73 came from police or fire crews, and 63 came from emergency dispatchers.

But not everything the unit responds to is an immediate emergency — sometimes, it’ll walk the streets simply to provide rides to essential services, pass out granola bars and blankets, or distribute socks and shoes.

The CRU is emphatic about the fact that it never “restrain(s) people against their will,” and isn’t designed to mandate inpatient mental health care. Rather, its members employ a more gentle touch with its “peer navigators.”

“Different from traditional service providers, peer navigators offer a shared life experience and non-judgmental and unconditional support to those they are assisting,” the program’s webpage reads.

In some situations, members will even carry cigarettes as a way to focus the attention of people in crisis, and deescalate a situation.

The team operates between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week. Staffing the CRU costs $497,000, plus $110,00 in what The Olympian calls “startup costs.” The team’s funding comes from a 2017 voter-approved public safety levy.

Seattle Navigation Team: Should they stay or should they go now?

Olympia’s CRU provides services similar to Seattle’s own Navigation Team, with some key differences. Seattle’s Nav Team is designed specifically for homeless outreach, while the CRU works under a broader, “crisis response” mandate.

More specifically, Seattle’s Navigation Team is designed to extend a helping hand to Seattle’s homeless, remove encampments deemed unsafe, and connect the unsheltered with resources for housing.

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Olympia’s new crisis response team gets 700 calls, mostly to homeless