Brenton Gicker, left, prepares to pull CAHOOTS van toward a 911 call at Eugene Public Library in 2019. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

For Liz Schrader, the time to have a CAHOOTS-style program in Salem is now.

She said the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley approached the city of Salem about a mobile response unit, modeled after CAHOOTS in Eugene which sends trained mental health professionals to crisis calls instead of police, two years ago.

Although program has been held up as a model for the rest of the state, Salem has been slow in creating its version because of lack of funding.

Schrader, chief development officer at the local United Way, said the nonprofit hopes to have a unit on the road, called Crisis Response United, by August.

“What’s happening now is United Way is going to take the ball and run with it,” said Schrader.  

She said the team might respond to, for instance, a houseless person sleeping in front of a downtown business.

If there was a response unit, they could point that person toward shelter or get them a backpack if all their belongings were stolen, she said.

But she cautioned the model isn’t intended to be like the child catcher in the 1968 film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” transporting people to other locations.

“That’s not it. The model is to provide the de-escalation of whatever is happening and immediate wound care,” Schrader said.

In May, the Salem Budget Committee recommended the city set aside $135,000 for a mobile response unit. The Salem City Council will vote on the budget in late June.

The decision followed nearly 100 comments from community members asking the city to fund such a program.

Schrader said for the full pilot of the program, the nonprofit will need closer to $430,000. Right now, she said she’s working with area foundations and other providers to come up with additional funding. They’re also looking for an ambulance that’s already outfitted. If that doesn’t pan out, they’ll have to retrofit a van they have, she said.

She’s also contacting local service providers like Falck and Bridgeway Recovery Services to help find staffing for the two positions.

“We have a service component but we’re not professionals at it. We’re going to lean on the advice and the feedback and the professional guidance of those services providers,” she said.

Schrader said there are state and federal dollars that will become available for mobile response units. But she added, “In 90 days those dollars aren’t going to be there.”

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke said Salem applied for federal matching funds for the mobile response unit, but probably won’t know until the fall or winter if they receive the funding.

Schrader said she hopes as those dollars are allocated and awarded they’ll have the kinks worked out from the pilot program.

“I can’t wait in that scenario,” she said of waiting for grant funding. “It is long past due for us to address the homeless problem in our community in a way that is impactful and sustainable.”

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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