Local faith leaders push for mental health crisis center funding

NOW: Local faith leaders push for mental health crisis center funding

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- Local faith leaders say they are fed up with the unkept promises.

They’re also wondering where the 2.6 million ARP dollars that was supposed to fund a new crisis response center over a year ago went.

Even though there was no opportunity for public comment during Tuesday evening’s meeting, community members showed up in big numbers to remind the brand-new county council of their commitment.

“We’re not just upset because the money’s been taken away, or invests cut down a quarter of the size after being promised to the community. We are suffering because the leadership of this county has shown itself to be hard-hearted and careless,” says Rabbi Michael Friedland of the Sinai Synagogue and Faith in Indiana leader.

The talk of a mental health crisis center was originally on the table back in December of 2021. The county council at the time unanimously agreed to use $2.6 million of ARP funds towards a new crisis response system.

A year later, a decision by county commissioners blocked the release of that money.

The center has been a topic of discussion for the past two years, but the deadly police shooting of Dante Kittrell, a South Bend man undergoing a mental health crisis last summer sparked action.

Just this past January—multiple Faith in Indiana leaders met with Commissioner President Carl Baxmeyer, where they say he promised to find ARP funding for the behavioral crisis center with the new county council.

However, they say since that meeting, they haven’t heard a word from him or Council President Mark Root.

“What we need are competent, honest, compassionate, and bold leaders,” says Rebekah Go with the Faith in Indiana Jail Diversion Working Group. “We need to ensure the funding is found and properly appropriated to the crisis response center.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Baxmeyer petitioned funding for the crisis center which would come in the form of $600,000 of opioid settlement dollars. Oaklawn may be able to receive a one-to-one match from the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction funds.

In total a proposed $1.2 million could fund a new crisis response center in South Bend.

“I said that we would continue to pursue the question of a behavioral crisis center,” says Carl Baxmeyer, St. Joe County Commissioner President. “When we received word about the opioid settlement and looked at the potential uses for the money, it became apparent to us, the commissioners anyway, here’s an opportunity to help with the behavioral crisis center.”

Ultimately the county council said they are concerned about a lack of specifics. Councilman Schaetzle says he will present an amendment in the next meeting that states if they are unable to get a two-thirds or more match, the money will be given back to the county. That meeting and vote is set for March 14th.

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