WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of Oregon's congressional delegation are once again working to take a Eugene-based crisis intervention program nationwide, an effort to create widespread mental health response teams that would work alongside police in responding to these kinds of incidents.
The CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets) crisis response program started in the Eugene-Springfield area during 1989 as a community policing initiative. It functions as an alternative for police response to non-violent mental health crises, with two-person teams — consisting of a medic and an experienced crisis worker — deploying to de-escalate situations without the use of force.
Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Peter DeFazio sponsored bils in 2020 that would have helped fund similar programs across the country, but they both stalled in committees.
Rep. DeFazio announced on Tuesday that the CAHOOTS Act has returned in 2021, with renewed hopes that it will come to a vote.
“For decades, Eugene’s White Bird Clinic innovative CAHOOTS program has led the way in prioritizing community-based mental health resources in crisis response situations,” said DeFazio. “As our country continues to explore ways to reduce police brutality and adequately address mental health and substance use disorder crises, we must invest more in proven models that prioritize effective, trauma-informed care."
The Eugene program is managed by the community-based White Bird Clinic and supported by a combination of city and county funds. If passed, the CAHOOTS Act would grant states enhanced Medicaid funding for three years in order to establish their own community-based mobile crisis services. It also provides $25 million for planning grants to aid states in establishing their programs.
"By connecting individuals in non-violent crises with robust health care and social services rather than immediately involving law enforcement, we could alleviate a significant burden on local police and prevent violence," DeFazio continued. "The CAHOOTS Act will help to bring Eugene’s successful model to communities across the country.”
DeFazio's bill in the House is a companion to a Senate bill introduced by Wyden last month.