NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The city of Newport Beach has activated a county-led program to get people suffering from mental health or substance abuse problems help.
Launched Thursday, the Be Well OC program supplies blue vans equipped with specialized personnel to travel to non-violent calls.
The van, run in partnership with the county, has a staff of eight working in two-person shifts. The van, which took to the street for the first time Thursday, will run 12 hours a day.
“The council really liked the concept. Like all cities, we’ve been looking for solutions everywhere to help people in crisis,” said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery. “It just makes sense.”
Under the program, the city has dedicated a staff of Emergency Medical Technicians, or EMTs. That team will respond to mental health phone calls that otherwise would have gone to the police or the fire department, public services with vastly different responsibilities. Those calls come through 911 or the non-emergency line for the police department.
Be Well OC has a campus in Orange where some patients may be taken for detox or other services.
“In our homeless ad hoc meetings this is the first time we’ve really felt some hope,” Avery said.
While the program can help homeless who are struggling, it is designed to help people suffering from a range of crises and problems regardless of where they live.
Newport Beach has gathered information on the program from Huntington Beach, which began with one Be Well OC van over the summer and recently added a second. Surf City started its program as an experiment but saw positive enough results to keep and expand it. The staff there is even considering adding a Be Well OC campus like the one in Orange with the kinds of services that can help treat people battling mental health problems or substance abuse. Like Huntington Beach, Newport Beach has built its own specialized homelessness advisory staff to collect information and offer the city council guidance. They’ll closely watch how the van works out and what improvements could be added.
“If they say we need another van we’re going to get another van,” Avery said. “This is the bottom of the pyramid in terms of caring for people, and if we’re not doing this we’re failing.”
The program has significant startup costs for the first year of $1.2 million. But that cost is offset by a $132,000 anonymous donation, plus a $717,000 federal grant. The final $372,000 will come out of the city’s budget for homeless shelters.
Avery called the donation “generous.”
“Mental health and homelessness can’t be solved by the government,” he said. “It takes everyone.”