By Sarah Loesch, Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE — Amy DeVries’ family needed the United Caring Services diversion center in 2020.
They needed it again Oct. 29. But in both instances the center, which plans to offer those dealing with substance abuse and/or mental health crisis an alternative to jail and the emergency room, has not been open.
During last week’s Vanderburgh County Council meeting, councilors were criticized for the lack of a vote on $500,000 of American Rescue Plan money meant to help open the center.
Vanderburgh County commissioners recommended the project for funding as a part of its second round of ARP allocation in June. The Evansville City Council voted unanimously in March to use $300,000 of its ARP money to help operate the facility. The city is also expected to approve another $300,000 in 2023.
DeVries is the executive director of Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment, which has championed the diversion center, but Wednesday she stood before the council as a mother.
She has two adult children who have a mental health diagnosis. After watching her son’s mental health decline for three weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, her daughter begged her to take him to the diversion center, she said. But it hadn’t opened.
Construction had started on the center in 2019, but COVID-19 resulted in delays, both to funding efforts and final renovations.
“My son was taken to Deaconess Midtown in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “He saw a dead body rolled by him as he was in the middle of a mental health crisis.”
He also left with a $3,000 ambulance bill when insurance wouldn’t cover the three-minute ride, DeVries said.
The center got back on track this year, with a financial boost from the city council and the recommendation for funding from the county commission.
County councilors have been going through the requests in pieces. The diversion center happens to be in a chunk that council has not yet taken up, along with other organizations like SWIRCA & More and Easterseals Southwestern Indiana.
For DeVries, this means this past Saturday after watching her son’s mental health decline over the past six months, there still wasn’t a diversion center to take him to. He’s lost two jobs, she said.
DeVries said there was nothing anyone on council could say to her that would be a sound excuse as to why the ARP dollars were not voted on when there was a quorum.
“I am disgusted,” she said. “I am disappointed.”
Prior to the public comment, council president John Montrastelle had said throughout the whole process the plan was to take the requests in group so they could be properly vetted.
“It’s a lot of money to approve,” he said.
The discussion on the remaining projects is set for Nov. 30 and a vote will come Dec. 7.
Stephanie Weiner, a member of the UCS board, still questioned why it has taken so long.
“The money you provide for us will make a difference on whether we can (open) four nights a week or seven nights a week, two years or three years,” Weiner said.
The facility has an estimated annual operating cost of $341,000 if open four nights per week, or $487,000, for seven nights per week.
Weiner said once the ARP money runs out, they hope they’ll be able to fund the center with UCS fundraising, grants and potentially money the center would save the taxpayers.
It’s estimated the center would result in around $12,000 in taxpayer savings. This is equated to it keeping people out of the jail and local emergency rooms.
“Can you imagine how much we would have saved by now,” she said. “But more importantly can you imagine how many people we would have made a difference for?”
It will save people from having a jail record, keep them out of the ER and keep ER workers able to focus on other patients with physical issues. Weiner said they would also be able to move people into appropriate facilities from the center to get targeted mental health and substance abuse care.
“We’re talking about people, and we’re talking about money,” she said. “Everybody understands money, and I hope you understand people.”
See original story here.