Mayor changes course, opens city pocketbook to pay for CATC

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, May 16, 2013

Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center

Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced Thursday that the city will not cut its share of funding for the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center, as he had set out to do in his proposed budget.

“We are gratified that people having serious mental health issues will continue to have this vital resource,” Hales said, in a joint statement with Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen. “In the two years since the county and city jointly opened the CATC, the center has helped to stabilize about 1,300 people in a mental health crisis.”

Hales’ proposed cut was harshly criticized by Cogen as a short-sighted mistake.

The 16-bed secure center opened in June 2011 off Northeast Grand Avenue to considerable fanfare by city, county and state officials. They touted it as a much-needed alternative to jail and hospital emergency rooms for people suffering a mental health crisis. Portland’s City Council resolution called the investment “a very high priority.”

But nearly two years later, Hales had recommended cutting the city’s annual $634,000 share of funding for the center, based on reports from Portland police that they haven’t found it useful.

Some veteran patrol officers dedicated to crisis intervention work say they didn’t know the center existed. The Police Bureau hasn’t encouraged officers to bring people they encounter there, largely because it doesn’t allow for drop-offs.

Center managers, though, earlier this month pointed to statistics that showed while Portland police haven’t been taking people directly to the center, many of the people they encountered were ending up there for treatment anyway.

Of the 1,300 people treated since the center opened, 942 patients came from emergency departments, where police likely took them initially, county officials said. Another 358 came from community referrals through social service agencies and the county jail. Of those referrals, 82 came from Project Respond staffers, who police regularly call out to mental health emergencies.

Under an agreement signed in 2010, the city and Multnomah County each agreed to 20 percent, or $634,000, of the center’s $3.5 million operating costs. The state picks up the rest.

The mayor’s about-face came after further discussions with Cogen about the crisis center, as well talks about finding ways to fund other services, such as the needle exchange program, a one-stop domestic violence center, local senior centers and SUN schools.

“Because Multnomah County is in a stable budget position this year” Hales and Cogen said in their statement, “we agreed that the county will pick up the city’s share for the needle exchange program and one-stop domestic violence center. And the county will provide one-time-only money to maintain the current level of funding for our community’s senior centers and split the cost of three SUN schools for one year, giving both the city and county time to work on a longer-term solution for both of those vital services.”