Grant Helping Mentally Ill Homeless Put On Hold

Triage grant teaming up professionals waits in the wings

By Lori Denman

While there are many steps in improving the homelessness situation in Ventura County, there are also many solutions that are slowly taking hold.

A low barrier year-round homeless shelters are planned for Ventura and Oxnard, which may open by this winter season.  And most recently, a new triage grant provided by the state was planned to implement a team including a mental health professional and police officer, who would hit the streets in hopes of helping those in need. Citizens Journal wrote numerous stories about this grant including, “Hope on the Horizon for Mentally Ill Homeless.”

The grant would have set the teams out into the streets in five cities including Ventura, Oxnard and Simi Valley. The teams would go into common areas of homelessness and also venture out to search for individuals who needed assistance with mental health issues.

There were high hopes by all, as the grant was schedule to kick start the program this past July. It has now been put on hold with a funding decrease. Meanwhile, the police departments, mental health professionals and homeless advocates wait with patience. The person who knows why this occurred, along with news of the grant is John Shipper who oversees the Adult Operations of Ventura County Behavioral Health (VCBH).

Citizens Journal sat down with Shipper, who spoke of the grant and its news of needed funding. The following section is the interview.

Citizens Journal: Everyone was so excited about the triage grant that was to start in July and would team up a mental health professional with a police officer. I heard from Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney it got put on hold. What happened?

John Shipper: A week away from our start-up, when the governor signed the budget, there was a reduction in the funding. When we inquired about it we were told that they were having a meeting on July 26 to determine the implications for it. We were also told that none of the services would be reimbursable until we had a contract and could work out the details.

So everything was put on hold until July 26 when this meeting would determine the percentage of the reduction. I think that in the end, Ventura County ended up receiving 71 percent of what was originally awarded to us.

What happens now?

There is a timeline. First thing we had to do was let them know if we wanted to go forward with the reduction. We replied yes. Then there is deadline for August 27, in which we are supposed to propose how we are going to change the scope of work with the budget reduction. There is some time needed to complete this process. Then we put together a new contract with the state.

Is there a new expected date set for this operation?

When it’s all said and done, the new start date for the operation is November 1.

What does the original grant provide?

I can tell you this. The original grant submission had parts to it. The first part was about a mental health staff riding around with police officers in cars. The second part of it is the development of an outreach and engagement change that focuses on people who are what they call Transitional Age Youth. That is people who are 18 through 25. That is an underserved population which is one of concern.

The grants indicated that as they were looking for programming, that we must target that group of people. The second part of our submission had us developing awareness at the colleges to be alert for those persons who may be potentially in line for mental illness. We are to get them services, so that is the second component to it.

Those two teams each have three people. There is a clinician, a Community Services Coordinator or a case manager, and also a peer — someone who has life experience.

Who originally provided this grant? Does it cover to pay for the mental health professional and the police officer on the team?

The source of the funding for the triage grant is from the state. The grant was provided by Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission, or MHSOAC. If you are a member of the Mental Health Services Act, that is the tax on millionaires with Proposition 63, there was a one percent tax placed on the person if they make over one million dollars. The tax was to be used specifically used for those who need mental health services.

The MHSOAC is part of the group that oversees that funding. The source of the funding is from the state. While the grant is then designed by the MHSOAC, the funding must be used to pay mental health professionals only, or for mental health services. Therefore, the provisions of this grant does not allow to pay for the police officer. Even before the grant was reduced, it came with specific details of what it can or cannot be used for. The police provide the officer.

With the reduction, what will occur?

One of the only requirements of concern of MHSOAC regarding the reduction is that the ratio of peers to clients remains intact. We have to keep the peer ratio but we also have to reduce our program by 29 percent.

We are working out the details now, concerning the decrease of 29 percent and what that means for the program.

Citizens Journal will continue to stay alert on this grant.

Lori Denman has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, and more. She is now the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.

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