News, Resources, & Happenings at TAC — May 2021

Kevin Martone testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism

Kevin Martone’s Senate Testimony on Behavioral Health and Policing

On April 22, TAC Executive Director Kevin Martone testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism. Senator Cory Booker presided over this hearing on “Behavioral Health and Policing: Interactions and Solutions,” which gathered insightful testimony from several witnesses. Congressional deliberations on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act present an important opportunity to educate legislators on the effects of uncoordinated reform efforts and underfunded community-based services – and to make the case for better solutions.

Kevin’s testimony was focused specifically on the over-utilization of law enforcement in responding to mental health emergencies. The current reality, in which police respond to mental health emergencies, and jails provide mental health care, is nobody’s preference but has evolved in response to several factors: Kevin laid out how our fragmented mental health system offers services that are inaccessible to many who need them, while insufficient attention is paid to “social determinants” that greatly influence the experiences of both individuals and communities. As he and other witnesses emphasized, Black and Brown people with behavioral health conditions bear the brunt of these policy failures in disproportionately high rates of arrest, injury, and even death in their encounters with the criminal justice system.

Kevin noted recent steps in a positive direction, including the new national 9-8-8 mental health crisis line to become operational in July 2022; a significant infusion of block grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and an enhanced Medicaid benefit for mobile crisis services established in the American Recovery Plan. To keep progress going, he called for greater capacity to meet actual need, and accountability by law enforcement to reform its response to people with mental illness, especially those who are people of color.

Whether the focus is local mental health systems or local police departments, Kevin told the subcommittee, “One by one is not going to get us there — we need a national strategy.”

New TAC Initiative will Support Rural Capacity-Building

TAC is honored to be one of just five national nonprofit organizations selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a four-year grant under HUD’s Rural Capacity-Building program. With this $1,250,000 award, TAC will help eligible recipients — including rural and community housing development organizations, Community Development Corporations, and local and Tribal governments — to carry out affordable housing activities for low-income families and individuals. TAC’s Rural Supportive Housing Initiative, led by Senior Associate Melany Mondello, will include trainings; tools for rural communities to assess and build capacity; and direct assistance in developing disaster recovery plans, expanding youth housing options, and increasing agency capacity to create supportive housing. The resources TAC will offer to rural communities will be expanded by valuable contributions from technical assistance firms Collaborative Solutions and CSH, and by partnerships with the social work programs of the University of Alabama and Miles College.

If you are interested in learning more, or think your community could benefit from assistance, contact Melany Mondello at mmondello@tacinc.org.

From Harm to Health: Centering Racial Equity and Lived Experience in Mental Health Crisis Response

On April 12, Fountain House and partners, including TAC, held an online launch event for the new report From Harm to Health. This timely resource offers a holistic and comprehensive framework to transform how we address mental health emergencies — from a reactive system driven by public safety goals and procedures, to a preventive, health-first approach that centers racial equity, lived experience, systemic challenges, and cultural competency. It is a report created by the Front End Project — a collaborative effort that aims to set forth a vision and strategies rooted in public health to transform how mental health emergencies (or “crises”) develop and are handled, which in many communities heavily relies on or defaults to law enforcement. It identifies and advances ways that communities can effectively respond to mental health emergencies and crises without the use of the criminal legal system.

The Front End Project is led by Fountain House, in collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation, The Haywood Burns Institute, TAC, and the Mental Health Strategic Impact Initiative, with support from the Ford Foundation. TAC Executive Director Kevin Martone and Human Services Director Francine Arienti were among the project’s Steering Committee members. They, along with Senior Consultant Sherry Lerch, were contributing authors to the project’s landscape analysis of crisis response systems across the U.S., while Senior Consultant Dayana Simons and Senior Associate LaMont Green joined other subject matter experts from many sectors in a series of topical discussion groups, all of which informed the final report.

TAC Staff in Action

Staff Activities

TAC Associate Eric Gammons co-presented two sessions at the recent National Human Services Data Consortium conference — “HMIS Project Setup 201: What Are Common Challenges when Completing Project Setup in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)?” and “HMIS Governance 101: How Does a Continuum of Care Effectively Govern its Local HMIS?”; Senior Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan co-presented at this year’s Housing First Partners Conference on “Building Housing First Programs for Youth: Making It Work,” together with the Jericho Project; Executive Director Kevin Martone testified at a hearing on “Behavioral Health and Policing: Interactions and Solutions” held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice & Counterterrorism (see article above); Tyler Sadwith, Senior Consultant, is quoted as a subject matter expert in two articles published by InsideHealthPolicy.com, “Stakeholders: Relief Bill Recognizes Substance Use But More Can Be Done” and “Addiction Medicine Community Wants Methadone Flexibility After Public Health Emergency”; and Tyler is also providing technical assistance to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices on its Stimulant Use Roundtable and Stimulant Policy Academy, and to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Initiative.

Staff Transitions

A warm welcome to four new members of the TAC housing team! Senior Associate Bree Williams, formerly Director of Community Housing for the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) in Austin, Texas, and Associate Tara Ortega, who has been serving as the Transitional Living Program Director for the organization Youth Shelters and Family Services in Santa Fe, New Mexico, both started at TAC on May 3. On May 17, Senior Associate Alison Korte will be joining us after serving as Training Program Manager for the Los Angeles County (CA) Department of Health Services, and Senior Associate Emila Sutton will come to us from her role as Director of Housing and Community Development for Orange County, North Carolina.

Congratulations to Senior Consultant Tyler Sadwith on becoming a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality through the National Association of Healthcare Quality!

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