South Bend announces funding to kickstart 24/7 behavioral crisis center

NOW: South Bend announces funding to kickstart 24/7 behavioral crisis center

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- Tuesday, the City of South Bend announced funding for a mental health crisis center. The city will cover the buildout of the project and fund its first year.

This will include mobile crisis response teams, primarily run by Oaklawn and other community partners.

It was just two weeks ago that the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners delayed the signing of the contract for the 24/7 behavioral crisis center.

ABC57 spoke with South Bend Mayor James Mueller about the city's announcement today to move forward with funding without the county. He said it is something community partners and activists have been calling for over years.

"Even our law enforcement officials, Sheriff Redman, Chief Ruzskowski, and our officers know they encounter folks suffering mental crises," Mueller said, "and, their options are leave them where they are, take them to the jail, or take them to the ER. None of those are good outcomes for our community."

But now, money is officially allocated to jumpstart a 24/7 behavioral crisis center in South Bend.

The $2.66 million contributions are supposed to come out of American Rescue Plan dollars from both the city and the county, matching funds.

"Going into December, we believed that the county was going to go first," Mueller said.

According to Mueller, the county would pay for the project buildout and first year of operations, then the city would come in and fund years two and three.  But, two weeks ago, the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners tabled the agreement, citing too many questions about the sustainability of the program.

"We want to ensure that this process is not rushed and is well thought out," said county commissioner Carl Baxmeyer on Dec. 20. "The money to fund the project is not being taken away however we would like to ensure that there is sufficient funding to ensure that the program endures far into the future."

Instead, the city is covering the buildout of the project and the first year of operation.

"What's changed is we moved quickly to make sure Oaklawn had the dollars available to keep this project on track," Mueller said.   

In a statement, a spokesperson for Oaklawn sent ABC57: "We are happy to have the partnership of the City of South Bend on this important project. We are working with additional local officials to answer questions and ensure that our community can have this very important crisis center."

Mueller said they were caught off guard by the county's hesitancy to move forward.

"At the end of the year, the county commissioners kind of caught us by surprise," he said. "You know, we've been working on this for years, this was in the news all last fall, especially following the tragic passing of Dante Kittrell."

He is referring to the police standoff turned deadly against Kittrell, who was going through a mental health crisis this past July.

The shooting created a resounding cry from the community for better mental health resources, pushing forward this joint effort.

While funding is still uncertain after the first year, the city is one step closer to more robust mental health services.

“It’s a long time coming," Mueller said. "The community has been calling for it for a number of years. And we’re so close to getting it across the finish line. Then we will get to see all the benefits."

Mueller said they are still banking on the county to fund years two and three. After that, they hope to secure permanent funding from the state.

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