The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is at the forefront of mental health treatment in River North, downtown

CHICAGO (CBS) – Have you noticed any other Cook County Sheriff’s officers and cruisers all over Chicago? There is a reason for this.

Only on the 2nd, we’ll get a firsthand look at the outreach work the sheriff’s office is doing downtown.

CBS 2’s Tara Molina walked around town with the Treatment Response Team (TRT) on Wednesday. The team focuses on connecting people on the street with resources.

It is a proactive police effort amid increasing crime throughout the downtown area. The sheriff’s office has police and medical teams who respond to problems when needed from their new command post in the River North neighborhood, or walk around the neighborhood and meet people where they are.

“A lot of doctors aren’t in the field like us, actually,” said Sheriff’s Office doctor Patrick Kelley.

Rain, sun, cool or hot; the crew dubbed the Treatment Response Team is downtown, walking around the neighborhood raising awareness on the streets.

“A lot of the people we work with don’t have phones, they don’t have addresses, so the only way we can reach them is to continue being here and provide support and assistance,” said Kelley.

Kelley has a background in criminal justice and mental health counseling. She is not a police officer, he is a therapist.

A team of therapists and police officers began working together at River North just a couple of months ago.

“When they are in crisis, they need someone to talk to, and what better person for them to talk to than a therapist?” Kelley said.

The difference? They keep those conversations going after responding to an accident or crime; and, when they hit the sidewalk three days a week, they make sure to talk to the people they constantly see on the street.

They offer help to those struggling with homelessness problems, mental health problems, or substance abuse problems. They are positioned to connect them with accommodation and treatment options.

“It’s about being at the forefront of things,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.

More than half of the people in Cook County Jail have mental health problems, according to Dart.

He said this job isn’t just about working to change it and get people the help they need, but to keep it from going that far in the first place.

“If we get to them now, they won’t be there maybe stealing from someone because they need to feed their habit. They won’t steal something from a store because they lost their jobs,” he said.

Dart said they are working in the North River and downtown areas because “we have never seen such great needs.”

“It’s not even a close call,” he said. “I was walking down here in the area and it was so overwhelming: the need to deal with mental health, homelessness and substance abuse. Block by block we ran into someone in pain.”

Dart said the program is a proactive effort to prevent problems we’ve seen simmering downtown in the past.

“For people who have a mental health problem and a substance abuse problem, they always happen together, a little interaction with someone who is unwell at the time escalates very quickly. Maybe someone was asking for a dispensation of a certain. nature can lead to physical confrontation. Things go off the rails quickly, “he said.

The treatment response team is here to stay.

“We will do what we can to help,” Kelley said.

Last week, the team engaged with 17 people during their outreach, distributed 5 Narcan opioid overdose treatment kits, and met with six companies. Two people that week are actively engaged with mental health or substance use care team staff.

Overall, the team is currently engaged with more than 200 clients, including people who receive services through a “virtual co-responder program”, which allows agents on the scene to contact a TRT doctor using a tablet or smartphone to help someone. in crisis.

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