A mental health triage center prioritized by Mayor Tom Potter's Mental Health/Public Safety Initiative work group in January now looks like it's slipping lower on Multnomah County's list of funding priorities—leaving Portland's cops with no option but to transport people in mental health crisis to jail.
Portland has been missing a crisis center since 2001, when the Crisis Triage Center and BHC-Pacific Gateway hospital in Sellwood were de-funded following the police shooting of Jose Mejia Poot at BHC. State investigators said Poot's shooting could not "be said to be totally unexpected," given the poor conditions at both centers.
After James Philip Chasse Jr.'s death last year—which also occurred in police hands—and the Mental Health Initiative recommendations that followed, County Chair Ted Wheeler has been trying to secure funding for a new center. He went with Potter to Salem to ask for $1.6 million in the last legislative session, but was turned down ["Mental Wealth," News, Feb 8].
On October 4, Wheeler's fellow County Commissioner Lisa Naito proposed diverting $4 million of the county's business income tax funding from Gresham to fund a triage center, arguing Gresham no longer needed the county's subsidy.
"The county can no longer afford [to give the money to Gresham]," Naito argued. "We have hacked health and mental health care services for thousands of people... we shut down the Crisis Triage Center that so many in our community depended upon."
Nevertheless, Wheeler and Commissioners Jeff Cogen and Lonnie Roberts voted against Naito's plans. Now, Wheeler says he plans to seek more funding for the center in November 2008.
"November 2008 means it's not a top priority," says Jason Renaud at the Mental Health Association, a member of the initiative's work group.
"You have to be creative in getting funding for things like this," says John Holmes, executive director of the Multnomah County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and another member of the work group. "I don't know what Ted's reasons were for voting against Lisa's plan, but it makes me feel like there's not much of a commitment there. People like James Chasse needed this center."
"It's not slipping down my list of priorities," Wheeler told the Mercury on Tuesday, October 30. "But I am asking for patience in getting it done. I understand and have compassion for those affected, but the bottom line is, I can't just print money here at Multnomah County."