April 25, 2016. Wave3News.
EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) – New details are coming out about a possible mental health crisis care center coming to our community.
Members of CAJE, or Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment, discussed the issue at their annual action Monday night.
CAJE leaders revealed there is officially a mental health commission in place. Members of the commission, ranging from local law enforcement officials to medical professionals and politicians, will focus on creating the crisis care center.
Non-violent criminals with mental health issues could go to the center instead of jail or an emergency room.
Kathy Guntel took to the podium Monday in support of the idea. She says her 43-year-old son James has been in and out of jail since he was 14.
Ten years ago, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Still, Guntel says when he gets in trouble, he goes back to prison, which doesn’t help him.
While she believes it’s too late for her son, she’s hopeful a care center would change the community landscape and would specifically be a great option for young people.
“If you send them to prison, they’re going to be forming wrong habits, wrong ways. If you get treatment for them, they might get better. It’s not a guaranteed thing, but they might get better. You’re giving them a chance, and everybody should have a chance,” Guntel says.
Mental health commission co-chairs Wyeth Hatfield of ECHO and Mayor Lloyd Winnecke say they’ve already had their first meeting and plan to meet at least six times this year.
Another issue brought up at CAJE’s action Monday night was housing. Leaders say their research shows one in four families can’t find find affordable housing.
That’s why director of Evansville’s Department of Metropolitan Development’s Kelley Coures agreed to go before city council members. He plans to ask them to dedicate two to five percent of Tropicana riverboat funds to an affordable housing trust fund each year.
Saundra Ross says she’s glad because trying to find a safe, affordable place to live has been a struggle. Thankfully, she says her family eventually found a good home, but it took her years.
“It was very frustrating, and it’s very frightening to not be able to provide for your children. We did eventually find a two-bedroom apartment, and that was over in Henderson, so the children were uprooted and started over in a very challenging time in their lives when we were going through a divorce already,” Ross says.
No word on when the mental health commission plans to meet again, or when Coures plans to make a case before city council.
Narcan was also a highlight of the CAJE action. It’s a nasal spray designed to reverse drug overdoses.
CAJE leaders recognized seven law enforcement officials who have saved lives with the antidote.
The crowd also heard from recovering heroin addict Evan Mann. He told them via a recorded video message that had an officer not used narcan after he overdosed in January, he wouldn’t be here today.
“I would like to thank him because without him, this wouldn’t be happening right now,” Mann says. “It was a close call, and I would just like to thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
CAJE hopes to see even more deputies, officers and first responders carrying narcan to help combat what they say is a growing drug problem.
Many of the city and county leaders who attended the action say they plan to attend CAJE’s community problems assembly in November.