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Travis county continues efforts for mental health diversion center

(PHOTO: CBS Austin)
(PHOTO: CBS Austin)
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Travis county is moving forward with its efforts to solidify a mental health diversion center.

Findings of a recent pilot study were discussed during a commissioner’s court meeting on Thursday. In the summer, the court asked staff to look at the sobering center downtown and see if that space could also be used for a diversion center.

“This was an opportunity for us to look at an asset we already have in our community, the sobering center, and see if we could ask it to do more and address mental health also,” said Precinct Three Commissioner Ann Howard.

The center is said to help reduce mass incarceration. Instead of being thrown in jail, individuals with mental illness would be diverted to the center and given services to help them cope with those challenges.

“I think justice reform is top on our list here at Travis County. Getting folks out of jail, helping them you know, be in jail for a brief time, should they land there, and then get back into the community. We want to have a community that's enriched with services, whether that's access to health care, access to safe and decent housing, employment opportunities, education, what people need to thrive,” Commissioner Howard said.”

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The pilot study found there was near total commitment to offering diversion mental health services and affordable housing to folks who need it. The county could pilot it at the sobering center but feels that may not be the best place to house it. The county is also looking into all mental health, addiction and criminal justice services in the county. As far as how much it will cost and who will pay for it? That’s still up in the air as the project is in its developing stages.

However, Commissioner Howard says she would love to see the state pitch in and put a portion of the $17 billion in funding towards its efforts.

“We don't have much state support for the challenges we have right now around access to health care and mental health care addiction,” the commissioner said.

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Howard adds there are other players pitching in to help and housing and treatment are required for a successful program to move forward. The county will take findings from this pilot and apply the information to the next analysis.

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