CAHOOTS launches 101 course on mobile crisis response

Each CAHOOTS team consists of a nurse or an ambulance driver and a crisis worker. The curriculum for her new course aims to share what CAHOOTS workers have learned over decades.

EUGENE, Oregon – In the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd sparked a worldwide movement against racism and police brutality, many activists, nonprofits and governments began to seek an alternative to maintaining order as the default crisis response method.

All over the country, all eyes have been on CAHOOTS of the White Bird Clinic, based in Eugene. The mobile, unarmed, 24/7 crisis response team seemed to answer the question many were asking: How can a community respond effectively to crises?

“We were getting a lot of interest in our program, more than we knew what to do with it,” said Abbey Carlstrom, CAHOOTS.

About a year ago, Carlstrom joined the CAHOOTS team to help their efforts meet this growing demand for their master plan. Last week White Bird Clinic and CAHOOTS announced the launch of a course open to organizations who want to understand what makes the 32-year-old program work.

“We teach, for example, mobile crisis response 101,” she said.

CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, is subject to clever acronyms – their new course is called BASIC-MCR, which stands for Building and Sustainably Implementing Community Mobile Crisis Response. It is planned to take place three times a year with cohorts made up of eight teams of up to five participants from municipalities, nonprofits and community groups across the country.

“The BASIC-MCR model will be a critical next step in building real connections with communities outside of Lane County,” CAHOOTS Crisis Assistant Chelsea Swift said in an email to The Register-Guard. “What is most exciting is that these links will not only exist in the vacuum between a representative of the White Bird Clinic and the ‘contractor’. “

The course will be a group environment and each session will be co-facilitated by different CAHOOTS workers so that participants hear directly from those who have the most intimate understanding of what work looks like in practice.

A mix of groups are interested, from municipal governments to nonprofits and local agencies.

“There are programs across the country starting up including Louisville, Phoenix, Arizona, many cities in New York (state) and Santa Rosa, Calif.,” Carlstrom said. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Collaborate on what could be

At the height of the American counterculture movement, Eugene’s hippies, suspicious of the establishment and especially the police, wanted to go elsewhere, so a collective of like-minded activists, doctors, and social workers came forward. founded the White Bird Clinic in 1969.

There was some concern 20 years later when the prospect of the group’s emergency response team working together – “in cahoots” – with Eugene’s police because the group was made up of “fairly anarchist hippies. », According to one of the founders of CAHOOTS.

But the strange marriage has lasted over the years. In Eugene, CAHOOTS is dispatched by the police-fire-ambulance communication center. In Springfield, it’s via the Springfield non-urgent number.

Each CAHOOTS team is made up of a nurse or paramedic and a crisis worker, someone with many years of experience in the mental health field. In 2019, CAHOOTS responded to 24,000 calls for help. Currently, about three dozen workers answer about 20 calls per day in 12-hour shifts.

The curriculum for her new course aims to share what CAHOOTS workers have learned over decades – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“Since we’ve been around for 32 years, we have very valuable information on what the programs that have just launched might be able to envision and things that they can prepare or design differently than us,” said Carlstrom. “Funding is obviously part of it – the CAHOOTS program is woefully underfunded. We really encourage these other programs to prioritize paying living wages to their first responders. “

Longevity is not equal to the “gold standard”

Since there is always more to learn, the BASIC-MCR course is not just about teaching, but creating a shared learning environment among those trying to imagine new possibilities.

“The CAHOOTS program has basically been the only one in this industry… so we have a lot to learn from other groups as well,” Carlstrom said. “Just because we’ve been around the longest doesn’t mean we’re in any way a gold standard. “

The program is built around the experience and expertise of CAHOOTS workers. CAHOOTS plans to share industry information, strategies and implementation tools with groups planning similar programs from the perspective of the oldest non-police crisis response mobile unit in the country. country.

The course will focus on collective learning between participating teams that are at different stages of program development. Even more ambitious, it aims to establish a support network for the growing industry of mobile crisis response.

The live sessions will be accompanied by additional reading, exercises, homework and guest speakers.

The course curriculum is informed by common questions from groups looking to start a pilot mobile crisis response program, as well as modules from its own in-house training academy.

Participating teams can include up to four stakeholders, including program managers, strategists, directors and members of partner agencies such as the police department. Registration for the course requires that each team include a representative of the community.

“Representatives from various cities, counties and organizations, including our own, will work together to create new systems filled with vibrant community strategies that move us away from coercive, prison and racist approaches to mental health crises, homeless communities and drug use, ”CAHOOTS spokesperson Rory Elliot said in an email.

Tuition for the BASIC-MCR course is $ 4000 per team with two partial scholarships available for non-profit groups and one full scholarship available for a grassroots community group.

Participating teams can include up to four stakeholders, including program managers, strategists, directors and members of partner agencies such as the police department. Registration for the course requires that each team include a representative of the community.

“Representatives from various cities, counties and organizations, including our own, will work together to create new systems filled with vibrant community strategies that move us away from coercive, prison and racist approaches to mental health crises, homeless communities and drug use, ”CAHOOTS spokesperson Rory Elliot said in an email.

Tuition for the BASIC-MCR course is $ 4000 per team with two partial scholarships available for non-profit groups and one full scholarship available for a grassroots community group.

Not a one-size-fits-all approach

As many cities fought for a new model of crisis response, CAHOOTS workers have always insisted that the approach must be tailored to the needs of the specific communities it serves.

This is in part why CAHOOTS employees make the program less standard consulting work and more of a collaborative educational environment.

“Our program meets the needs of our community,” said Carlstrom.

“The majority of CAHOOTS calls are for homeless people and it’s unique to Eugene, and it’s going to be different in a metro area or in a place where they may be experiencing an opioid epidemic.”

In 2019, around 35% of calls for CAHOOTS were for transport, including 15% for transport to shelters. Other communities might serve different people with different needs, and programming should be adjusted accordingly.

Spreading the word while creating a revenue stream

At this point, the BASIC-MCR course is not a certification. Participation in the course does not end with CAHOOTS accreditation nor does it imply approval of the resulting programs.

This inaugural course is designed to help the start-up phases and early implementation of similar programs.

If all goes well, there could be more to come, a sort of “CAHOOTS 201,” Carlstrom said.

All the benefits of the course will help meet the funding needs within CAHOOTS.

“It’s unique for White Bird in that it’s going to be one of the only things that potentially makes a profit,” Carlstrom said.

“There is hope that if we are in the spotlight in this way, it could help the program leverage the financial support it needs. “

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