The Seattle City Council is considering $49.9 million in budget amendments to address mental and behavioral health needs, including the creation of a new voluntary crisis center. 

As housing and public safety dominate 2022 budget discussions, Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Dan Strauss have introduced a series of amendments to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $7.1 billion proposed budget that seek to address both issues through mental health crisis intervention.

Most notably, the two have proposed a pair of amendments to establish and cover operational costs at a new short-term crisis center in Seattle.

Strauss’ amendment, co-sponsored by Herbold and Councilmember Andrew Lewis, would allocate an additional $13.9 million from the general fund to the Human Services Department to bolster mental and behavioral health services.

The proposed investment would focus on crisis response, with the bulk of the money going to cover the operations of a second crisis stabilization center, similar to the existing Crisis Solutions Center operated by the Downtown Emergency Services Center, or DESC.

“If somebody is in crisis, they’re met by the crisis response team, they’re stabilized for 72 hours, and then have the opportunity to stay for up to 14 days,” Strauss said in a budget committee meeting last week, calling the center his “top priority for the year.”

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Strauss described the center as a short-term emergency solution for mental health crises, rather than a permanent housing solution. However, he also said it would play a role in finding permanent solutions to public safety and housing issues in the city.

The sun sets on the Seattle skyline on Oct. 11. (Daniel Kim / The Seattle Times)

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“Without an emergency place to stay, we’re not able to intervene in the moment, and without more permanent shelter, we’re not able to keep them stable,” he added. 

Operations for that center would account for $8.5 million. An additional $3.9 million would go to an expansion of mobile mental health crisis services operated by the DESC and the remaining $1.5 million would go to behavioral health response teams, including those currently operated by DESC.

According to the proposed amendment, the $8.5 million would cover one year of operations for the second voluntary crisis stabilization center, and would roughly double the capacity for those services in King County. 

The current DESC facility operations are funded by King County and have a 16-bed Crisis Diversion Facility, where a person in a behavioral health crisis may stabilize for up to 72 hours, according to the amendment, and 30 additional “step-down” beds that people can stay in for up to 14 days.

While the amendment does not cover purchasing or renovating the second facility, Herbold has introduced a separate amendment that would provide the Human Services Department with a one-time $32 million boost, earmarked for the setup of the new facility. 

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“This would be similar to the Crisis Solutions Center, with between 50-65 beds and staffed by a medical and nonmedical behavioral health team,” Herbold said. “In addition to simply expanding the number of beds available, it would also accept referrals from a broader number of partners than is currently permitted.”

“Currently the crisis solution center accepts referrals from primarily law enforcement. A new facility could accept referrals from community partners, such as Crisis Connections, meeting the goal of helping people in acute behavioral health address their needs without requiring law enforcement involvement,” she added.

The facility amendment allows the department “to acquire and renovate a hotel or other facility to meet state residential treatment facility licensing standards to operate as a voluntary facility for crisis stabilization, similar to King County’s Crisis Solutions Center.”

In addition to the crisis center amendment, Herbold has introduced two smaller amendments amounting to an additional $4 million investment in mental health and behavioral resources. 

Herbold said that in addition to helping those in crisis, the resources will help with criminal justice reform and emergency response times by removing police from wellness checks and similar calls.

“The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s recent analysis of Seattle’s 911 calls resulted in the Executive’s agreement that ‘up to 12% of calls for service can be responded without SPD involvement in the near term.’ That’s 40,000 calls annually which do not require a police response,” Herbold said, citing the analysis. “The proposed budget falls far short by proposing to respond to just 7,000 of these with Triage One. That leaves more than 30,000 calls that will default to police response without an alternative funded at scale.

“Investments like the Mobile Crisis Team are exactly what we need to respond safely.”

Herbold’s other related amendments would allocate:

  • $1 million to increase funding for school-based mental and behavioral health services, and to increase the city’s investment in county-contracted mental health services.   
  • $3 million to expand mobile advocacy services and financial assistance for survivors of gender-based violence, a research-backed approach that promotes long-term stability, safety and well-being for survivors and their children. 

Council members are expected to take final action on the budget the week of Nov. 22.