City to send unarmed response teams on non-violent calls

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Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — A pilot program to have unarmed outreach teams respond to nonviolent 911 calls involving people experiencing homelessness was announced by Mayor Eric Garcetti Nov. 23.

The Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE) program will begin this month, with teams comprising one outreach worker, one mental health clinician or licensed behavioral health clinician and one community ambassador available at all times to respond to diverted calls out of Venice and Hollywood.

Venice and Hollywood were selected as the pilot areas because of the high concentration of people experiencing homelessness in those areas and the high volume of calls for service.

“There’s a lot of support around the idea of removing police officers from nonviolent response, and Los Angeles is harnessing that energy to create a model that strengthens the human bonds that are essential to public safety and seeks to help, not punish, our most vulnerable Angelenos,” Garcetti said at a press conference announcing the program.

“CIRCLE will ensure that our unhoused neighbors are met with the compassion and care they deserve, and is another step in the direction toward our ultimate goal: ending homelessness in Los Angeles.”

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose 13th Council District includes parts of Hollywood, attended the press conference announcing the new program.

“We are actively re-examining and updating how we handle the delivery of health services, especially to people who are not only experiencing homelessness, but who are also grappling with mental health and substance abuse issues,” O’Farrell said. “The CIRCLE program will help us meet people where they are and allow practitioners to thoughtfully respond to people’s complex needs, without compromising public safety.”

Teams will be proactively deployed during the day to areas deemed high-need. The mayor’s office said the teams will work to get to know the homeless community, conduct light sanitation work, de-escalate situations and create referrals to local service providers.

“You couldn’t have a clearer example of this country lacking a robust social safety net than when people with guns show up to respond to a nonviolent, mental health crisis,” City Council President Nury Martinez said.

The city contracted with Urban Alchemy as the service provider for the program. Lena Miller, Urban Alchemy’s CEO, said the program “leverages the hard-earned wisdom and emotional intelligence of practitioners who have life experience that enables them to unflinchingly engage individuals who are in the throes of anger, distress, despair or a psychotic break to de-escalate, calm, and ultimately heal.”

“Urban Alchemy is proud to be a partner with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city of Los Angeles to redesign the city’s emergency response system to more appropriately and compassionately respond to people experiencing homelessness,” Miller added.

“With the launch of the CIRCLE pilot program, we have a real opportunity to show everyone that Los Angeles can be a model for a human and effective solution to the nation’s homelessness crisis,” City Councilwoman Nithya Raman said. “By reimagining public safety and providing an alternative response to non-emergency 911 calls that focuses on trained crisis responders, mental health professionals, and outreach workers, we are taking a huge step toward building a better, more compassionate city.”


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