‘Project Rescue’ launched for mental health services in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) — Last year, opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts hit an all-time high. Now local authorities are looking for ways to reduce those numbers.

“We are going to meet the community where it is. we need to get out from behind our walls and into our neighborhoods and let our residents know what we can offer in the way of help,” said Helen Caulton-Harris, Springfield Commissioner of Health and Human Services.

A partnership will work with local nonprofits, a network of mental health providers and a team of street outreach workers. Response teams will target specific areas in Springfield to help those struggling with mental health and abuse, and beggars who become aggressive to meet their mental health and addictions needs.

The Project Rescue initiative will be an opportunity to bring aid, services and resources to those in need, according to the mayor of Sarno. The first area they will focus on is the temple, school and main streets area. Community counselors and sheriff’s deputies will be on the streets, looking specifically for people who need help.

Mayor of Sarno says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for mental health and addictions resources and services across the country. I want to thank Sheriff Nick Cocchi and his team, and all of our community outreach partners for coming together to work with my dedicated city team to create this special response and engagement initiative – Project Rescue. Working together, this dedicated community engagement and response team can respond and provide needed services and resources to those in need, especially those suffering from mental health or addictions. Another goal of Project Rescue will be to include mobile vans capable of responding and providing outreach and assistance to beggars, especially those who have become increasingly aggressive in their search to fuel their addiction.

Part of the outreach includes a van with an exam table, bathroom and sink. Health staff will be able to connect these people in need with local addictions, housing and mental health resources such as the Gandara Center or the Open Food Pantry.

“This is not a police initiative or a show of force operation. This is a humanitarian, public and mental health initiative to save lives,” said Mayor Sarno. “We want to work with our Public Health, Mental Health and Addictions Network team to provide the services, treatments and resources available to help these people in need.”

The police and fire department said they are called to many incidents in this Temple-School-High Street neighborhood, so they hope this van will help them keep this neighborhood safer.

On-demand drug treatment options and mental health services made the difference at the Hampden County Office when it partnered with the Holyoke Police Department.

“This is an innovative collaboration that allows us to bring help, hope and compassion to the streets, directly to the people who need it most,” said Sheriff Cocchi. “We’ve seen how the pandemic has pushed more people into addiction, and we’re not sitting back and waiting for things to get better. We go to the toughest neighborhoods in Hampden County and help make things better.

Cocchi believes this partnership is about building a relationship with those in need of services.

“The days when we will be present, drug trafficking will not be present. Overdoses will decrease and people who need help will be offered continued help,” Cocchi said.

HHS Commissioner Caulton-Harris added, “The Springfield Department of Health and Human Services has a long history of advocating for the provision of services and resources to those in need. Project Rescue is a collaborative effort with all of our public and private stakeholders to address the growing concerns and need for resources to address mental health, addiction and begging, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. . This “everyone” approach will focus on positive community outreach and engagement initiatives for a healthier and safer Springfield community.

HHS Commissioner Caulton-Harris’ Office of Racial Equity will join in raising awareness with the help of mental health clinicians and outreach workers.

In recent efforts, Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood said the Springfield Police Department arrested drug dealers and other out-of-town bad actors to help Project Rescue succeed, as the Collaborative outreach efforts will make it easier to reach those in need.

Clapprood said, “The brave and dedicated women and men of the Springfield Police Department salute this joint initiative to help address this growing problem of mental health, addiction and begging. The more resources we have and collaborative partnerships to meet the public health and mental health needs of our community, the better the Springfield Police Department can serve our residents and our business community.

Fire Marshal Calvi said, The Springfield Fire Department is excited about this joint partnership and excited to be a part of Project Rescue. This collaborative response will provide the necessary resources for our public and private responders to help those in need of mental health and addictions services.

Gándara Center Executive Director Lois Nesci added, “Mental health and substance use are critical issues in our community. We are committed to working with the City to help those in need of behavioral health services. I commend the mayor for taking action to address these concerns.

The first part of the project’s rescue unfolded earlier this week, when police arrested 15 people in this neighborhood, including at least 5 for allegedly trying to sell drugs.

“They came because they found a lucrative business and they settled here. They have become brave and bold to exploit and occupy this neighborhood,” Clapprood said.

The city plans to expand the program to other neighborhoods in the future. For now, they will be in the temple, school and main streets area once a month. Response teams are made up of law enforcement professionals, mental health clinicians, addictions counsellors, medical professionals and community outreach workers.

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