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Published on Friday, February 9, 2018

Three bills supporting individuals suffering from mental health pass out of the House

Thursday, February 8 was a great night for the state on tackling problems on city streets. With all the discord around the country that we all read about every day, it is important to recognize how much more we all have in common than we have differences.

In one concentrated flurry, Representatives from both parties passed three bills with a combined total of 284-10. It was a truly encouraging signal that taking care of real problems back home is not a partisan item.

The bills provide supports to individuals suffering from mental health illnesses. Here’s how:

  • HB 2667 fixes a quirk in the law that is forcing people with disabilities and mental illnesses who are already receiving housing support to fall into homelessness when their disabilities become permanent. The last thing cities struggling to care for their communities need is forcing individuals we’ve gotten back on their feet into homelessness for no good reason.
  • HB 2892 creates a grant program to help cities utilize mental health professionals in partnership with their police so that people in crisis can get the help they really need - rather than using the criminal justice system as the de facto behavioral health system. We hope this pilot can enhance the work of cities that are already doing this, and ensure that new communities make it a priority. It’s very gratifying to see the recognition that our men and women in law enforcement need better tools to tackle today’s problems.
  • HB 2287 follows through on that promise by investing in pilot diversion centers in Snohomish and Spokane counties so that there are coordinated facilities with temporary bed space to allow people who are facing these challenges to get the help they need. These pilots will provide connection with services and crisis intervention, rather than defaulting to the emergency room or the jail.

The Senate now has an opportunity to make these initiatives even better. And more importantly, the state needs to follow through with the resources commensurate to the challenges facing the entire state. We need to aggressively fund these pilots and we need to aim higher still because these challenges face all of us. We know the need is greater than the state can address in one year – but we need to be bold.

City elected officials and staff know we’re facing a crisis of homelessness, and not just in the big cities. We know we have an opioid epidemic and a mental health system that is struggling to keep up with the need. We know our police are serving on the front lines and faced with both keeping our communities safe as well as gently caring for people who might be experiencing the worst day of their lives as their mental illness gets the best of them. In response, more and more cities are stepping up to the plate because we want to be part of the solution.

Let’s embrace the reminder that elected officials in both parties are trying to do their best for their communities. And we all have a lot more in common than sometimes we remember.

Categories: Housing, Human services