For three months, a small, vocal, frothy group of Jackson Place residents have fought a proposal to open a mental health crisis center in their neighborhood, arguing that the facility would operate more like a prison than a hospital, and thus shouldn't be allowed in the area under current land use regulations.
After weighing the issue for three months, the Department of Planning Development disagreed with opponents. Yesterday, the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) was finally granted a city permit to build a Crisis Solutions Center in the neighborhood.
"It was an arduous process but we got it," says Bill Hobson, director of the DESC. The diversion center will provide police and medical responders a place to can take non-violent people who appear to be suffering from mental illness, or emotional or substance abuse problems, in lieu of jail or a hospital stay.
"The county is resolute about getting this project operational," says Bill Hobson, the director of DESC, who notes that last year, 2,930 people were admitted to King County jails for psychiatric reasons. "The DESC is resolute. The sooner, the better."
Opponents of the project—calling themselves the Jackson Place Alliance for Equity (JPAE)—now have 24 days to file a lawsuit against the project in King County Superior Court. The group's lawyer, Peter Eglick, hasn't yet returned calls for comment, but DESC director Bill Hobson is confident this fight's far from over.
"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that a lawsuit will be filed—probably on day 24," says Hobson. "Their whole strategy is to delay, delay, delay—they're trying to dampen enthusiasm or derail our capital funding."
Last night, the DESC began drafting a Good Neighbor Agreement with open-minded Jackson Place residents who have concerns about the project but ultimately recognize it's value. JPAE members have refused to participate in the process.
If by some miracle of a blue moon the group doesn't file a suit, Hobson says that the center could be up and running in four to five months. The voluntary facility will have 46 available beds—16 reserved for short term patients (24 to 72 hours) and another 30 for people who require more intensive two-week stabilization and referrals for shelter, housing, and further treatment. A mobile crisis outreach team will also work with first responders and transport clients to housing appointments as well as drug and mental health treatment programs (more info here).