by Lisa Ryan for Ideastream

November 20, 2020

A new mental health and addiction center will open on Cleveland’s East Side in early 2021.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish made the announcement at a Board of Health press conference on Friday, and he compared the need for mental health services to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like COVID, [mental health and addiction] stealthily attacks, often destroying lives,” he said. “But unlike the virus, there’s no vaccine cure on the horizon.”

This will be a diversion center to get people help instead of sending them to jail, Budish said.

“When police pick up someone from mental health or addiction, often for minor crimes like disturbing the peace, there’s often no good place to take them,” Budish said. “So the police in many case take them to jail.”

Budish said the jails have been the biggest repositories for people who need mental health care, which overcrowds jails and doesn’t help people who need it.

“To further shatter their lives, they end up in the criminal system with a record,” he said.

The center will be operated by Oriana House and supervised by the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board.

According to ADAMHS Board CEO Scott Osiecki, the process for bringing people to the center will start with a call from law enforcement. Frontline Services will operate the 24-hour hotline that will evaluate potential patients.

“We’re really counting on law enforcement to be our partner, as well, in helping the people of Cuyahoga County and the success of the diversion center,” said Osiecki.

ADAMHS Board is still in negotiations on a two-year contract for about $9.2 million to oversee the center.

It will initially be at the intersection of E. 55th Street and Euclid Avenue, with 50 beds for short-term care for up to nine days. Patients will receive referrals for longer-term care.

This won’t be its permanent location, however, and the county will continue to look for a different site.

Police officers will also receive crisis training from the ADAMHS Board so they can identify people who are eligible for the diversion program and de-escalate situations.

“This project will change criminal justice in Cuyahoga County,” Budish said. “We’ll be enabling people to break free of the cycle of incarceration and join the community as productive citizens.”

He said the immediate changes will be a reduction in jail population and improved treatment for those with mental health and addiction needs.

Creating a diversion center in Cuyahoga County has been in the works for years. After the advocacy group Greater Cleveland Congregations withdrew its petition for a referendum on pubic financing of renovations at what was then called Quicken Loans Arena, the group announced an agreement with the county to build diversion centers.

The group applauded the announcement of a contract three years later.

“This announcement is a win for our community, one we have been working for quite some time,” said the Rev. Jawanza Colvin, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland. “We know that diversion centers are critical to transforming criminal justice. By directing mentally ill and addicted individuals toward treatment first we are one step closer to fixing a broken system.”

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