Calif. city pilot program to send EMT, social worker to homeless-related 911 calls

Under the program, the partnered roles will serve as the city’s Mobile Crisis Unit, providing “non-emergency response and care to unhoused community members”

By Rachel Engel

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — A public safety pilot program approved by city council members seeks to reduce the amount of emergency personnel dispatched for homeless-related non-emergency calls.

Under the program, an EMT and social worker will partner to serve as the city’s Mobile Crisis Unit and respond to calls involving the homeless that don’t require an emergency response, the New Times reported.

The program was authorized with the passage of the city’s two-year budget on June 1 and funds the EMT position through the fire department and the social worker position through a local nonprofit contract.

The budget also includes funds for a second social worker to serve with the police department’s Community Action Team.

One council member, Andy Pease, said the program was a direct result of the Black Lives Matter movement, and said more plans are in the works.

“For us this is kind of lighting speed for what a municipality can do,” he told New Times. “We’re absolutely not done.”

However, many local activists protested the city’s budget, citing the $1.3 million increase to the city’s police budget, and calling for a $5 million divestment.

“We want mental health-first programs that don’t involve the police,” San Luis Obispo resident Kat Shroeder Mora told New Times. “We do not want community policing or [diversity] trainings for the police. We want fewer police – this has been really clear. This budget does not do that.”

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