On February 23, 2023, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosted a webinar about the behavioral health crisis and the homeless community. Panelists noted that the current crisis response system is broken and perpetuates inequities. Moreover, people in crisis are often stuck in a repetitive cycle of only momentary inadequate care. Lack of access to services only exacerbates the likelihood of behavioral health symptoms, and once someone reaches the crisis point there is little available help. In terms of solutions, panelists recommended the use of the 988 hotline, as well as crisis response systems that focus upon creating human connection, understanding and trust.

Far too often, providers are not following their clients at their own pace. Coercion and any form of involuntary treatment are simply unjust and only push people away from seeking services. Rather, crisis response workers need to validate and advocate for their clients, and must be trained to handle all situations with respect, trust, patience and a variety of tools. Many panelists spoke of the importance of response workers that have lived experience, and how this can help create a more genuine, compassionate and comfortable environment for clients. Additionally, panelists claimed the 988 hotline was better equipped to handle behavioral health crises, especially for homeless people. Yet, while this hotline has been very effective, in order to reach all needs, it must be further integrated into the broader crisis system. Ultimately, breaking the cycle of temporary stabilization and subsequent behavioral health crises helps strengthen communities and provides long term solutions for all, especially those who are most vulnerable.

By Olivia LaMarco, Policy Intern