Pilot ‘Peer Assisted Crisis Team’ coming to Victoria as alternative to police response

WatchA new Peer Assisted Crisis Team is making its way to Victoria as an alternative response for 911 calls. As Hannah Lepine tells us, the pilot program will aim to alleviate pressure on officers, and provide victoria residents with the appropriate resources when going through a mental health crisis.

A new mental health response team will be coming to Victoria as part of a pilot project that will serve as an alternative to police response.

Funding received by the City of Victoria will be used to create the ‘Peer Assisted Crisis Team’. The team will be the first to show up mental health crises, where normally the police are first.

The new program comes after the idea won support from Victoria council and the Victoria and Esquimalt police board at the urging of Victoria Police Chief Del Manak in 2020, and is similar to a program in Eugene, Oregon called ‘Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets’, or CAHOOTS.

The teams are made up of a nurse, paramedic or EMT and a crisis worker with experience in the mental health field.

The system in Eugene involves a dispatcher deciding whether a call goes to the police or CAHOOTS and, in some cases, both are sent to an incident.

CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C. Division Jonny Morris says they hope the new team will bring an experienced civilian response to mental health issues.

“What we hope to design in Victoria with partners is a response where we have civilians respond,” said Morris. “So, folks with mental health training and with lived experience with mental illness, or mental health problems as part of a crisis response team.”

Morris says having the right response is key with mental health crises.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says oftentimes crisis workers know exactly what steps need to be taken in a mental health emergency before the police.

They say these teams can respond, provide immediate stabilization and when warranted, referral or transportation to the next step in treatment.

Victoria mayor Lisa Helps says she feels it is important to have alternative response methods to help mental health patients and take pressure off police.

“Sometimes when people are having a mental health breakdown what they need is peer support health care, not the police,” said Helps. “I think it’s important to have an alternative response, our police are fantastic, they do a really good job but they are not mental health workers, they don’t want to be mental health workers.”

The team is still in the early development stages, however, the pilot program is expected to be up and running within 12 months.

READ MORE: Victoria to receive $4.7 million from province to address homelessness

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