NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — New Haven city leaders are celebrating the success of the Elm City Compass program. It’s a mental health crisis response team that responds to calls for situations like drug, alcohol, mental health, and housing emergencies.
Phase one of the initiative started in November 2022. Since then, they’ve had one team working 7-days a week. They’ve responded to nearly 600 calls so far.
Now, the city is launching phase two of the initiative, which will run through June 2024. Elm City Compass is deploying two response teams seven days a week, expanding their hours to work 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and are adding a case manager to their program.
Elm City Compass hit the streets last November supporting New Haven police, fire, and medical personnel in crisis situations.
Leaders say they’ve seen success including one man who was sleeping outside the police department.
“After three engagements, we were able to connect him to one of our crisis beds,” said John Labieniec, coordinator of Elm City Compass. “Today he’s working part-time, he’s reconnected with his spirituality, and he has his own apartment.”
Officials say of the nearly 600 calls they’ve received between November 2022 and June 2023, 61 percent were related to mental health or substance use, while 39 percent were for resources to housing.
Leaders say the response team can help ease tension during emergencies.
“When you’re sending the lights and sirens, that’s when sometimes the level of anxiety goes up,” said Joseph Vitale, director of New Haven Public Safety Communications.
Compass says they’re averaging 11 minutes to respond to calls and averaging 48 minutes on scene.
They say that’s saving New Haven police more than 2,700 minutes and the fire department 650 minutes — allowing them to respond to other calls.
“We can’t do it alone, and we’re not equipped for a lot of the things that compass is now doing for us, especially taking the time, the lived experience, homelessness, and substance abuse,” New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson said. “These are things we deal with every day as officers and arresting isn’t going to change it.”
Leaders admit they’ve responded to some patients more than once, some of whom are refusing services. But Labieniec says it takes time to build trust.
“Though you may not see a change right away, we are doing follow-ups,” Labieniec said. “It may be taking somebody to get some water and some food the first time. The second time might be to take a shower. The third time might be to get some new clothes. And maybe it’s that sixth, seventh, or tenth time that we engage with them that they say, ‘You know what? Maybe I’ll give this a chance.”
City leaders say there’s still a need for more places to offer services, so they’re planning to open a crisis center next year as an alternative to transporting people to the hospital for lower-level care.
New Haven’s allocating $3.5 million to Elm City Compass through July 2025. Of that, $2 million is federal funding.