Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen held a "heated" meeting with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales this afternoon, saying he's "shocked and concerned" that the mayor's proposed budget eliminates funding for a a 16-bed mental-health crisis center where Portland police can take people in mental distress—but rarely do.
"I shared with the mayor my feelings," Cogen says. "The idea that the city—which is currently trying to negotiate a settlement with the DOJ over its treatment of the mentally ill—that same city would make dramatic cuts to a facility that is designed to keep people in a mental crisis away from the police, is shocking and disturbing."
The county-run Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center, at 55 NE Grand Ave., opened in June 2011 above the Central City Concern Sobering Center as a partnership between the city and the county to help people in mental distress. But police say they don’t like using the center because its admission policies are burdensome.
Cogen says the county agreed in 2010 to jointly open the CATC, and now will have to cut operating hours, reduce beds to 11, and will serve 200 less people in mental crisis each year.
"It's worth remembering how this started," Cogen tells WW. "The genesis of this crisis center was in the James Chasse killings. Less than two years later, they're saying they're going to cut funding for it? I understand difficult choices, but this is just a poor one."
The Portland Police, which received their own portion of bad news in the budget today, said the CATC's rules just don't work for police.
Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says that the center's own rules say those who are a threat to themselves or others—people the police deal with—can't be admitted. He called the 15-point list potential admits must meet prohibitive to police officers, who almost exclusively deal with those who are a danger.
"This conversation is not new with the CATC," Simpson says. "The police bureau has tried to describe why this doesn’t work. If that criteria was changed to allow a person in crisis to go there, that would be a dramatically different picture."
Simpson says that the question is not about the quality of the service CATC provides, but rather the fact that the city can't use it—so Multnomah County should pay for it.
UPDATE, 10 pm: Multnomah County spokesman David Austin says the CATC has no rules restricting police from using the facility.
"That's false," he says. "That's just not true. The cops have a number of ways to access the CATC. They're just not doing it. "
He says the center was specifically designed for people in mental-health crisis, but not while they pose an active danger.
"I wonder if they just don't want to spend the time to see the crisis deescalate," Austin says. "I hope that's not the case. As partners, I would think that we all want the same thing—to make sure everyone winds up safe."
While announcing his budget this morning, Hales told WW he expected a difficult conversation with Cogen about a list of cuts to county programs ranging from needle exchange to helping sex workers with addictions.
"I have spoken with Chair Cogen," Hales said. "I think I can safely say he's not happy about the entirety of the list."