DESC led call to increase crisis response

Outreach staff

Letter from Executive Director Daniel Malone
December 2021

As we near the end of this year, I want to highlight some good news: growing incapacity in the behavioral health crisis response system is getting much-needed attention and investment from local officials, thanks to a multi-agency effort led by DESC.

That effort has resulted in the Seattle City Council’s passage on Nov. 22 of an amended budget that includes $5 million to help create a specialized short-term shelter for people with behavioral health conditions, and $2.5 million to expand mobile behavioral health crisis services. Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the budget on Dec. 1.

By late summer 2021 it was clear that a pandemic-strained system was unable to respond quickly and adequately to increasing, and more severe, behavioral health crisis events across King County. The inadequate response was exacerbated by the sudden uncertainty about how and when law enforcement should respond to behavioral health crises, as different agencies interpreted a new law in different ways.

DESC has long played a key role in the crisis response system, especially through the work of our Mobile Crisis Teams and Crisis Solutions Center. These programs respond to people in crisis in the community, providing alternatives to incarceration and hospitalization. But now staff members were expressing concern about the safety of clients and staff alike in crisis events.

DESC and other behavioral health service providers called for an emergency summit with Seattle and King County officials on Oct. 5. We all spoke candidly.  Service providers requested some urgent remedies:

  • Funding for a set of strategies to strengthen and expand the system, especially its capacity for crisis response. Seattle has responded with its amended budget, which expands Mobile Crisis Teams and post-crisis follow-up capacity, and King County is incorporating many of the system funding proposals in their future budget planning and in their work with the state government.
  • More coordination and communication. In response, the director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services will coordinate a meeting between law enforcement leaders and behavioral health providers to talk about policing practices, for clarity and to improve consistency.

These actions are a step forward. It will take more time, money and a lot of conversation to scale up and refine local behavioral health response systems, but this is a start.

Best Wishes,
DESC Executive Director