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Sacramento's New Response Team Looks To Address Mental Health, Homelessness

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The homeless crisis is nothing new, but the way Sacramento approaching it is with a new team. It's part of the city's first responder triad.

Previously, when you called for help you would get the police or fire department; Now, there is a third option.

The city's Department of Community Response (DCR) was formed with the goal to de-escalate and provide support. In a team of two, Sacramento's new DCR Thursday checked out a homeless encampment that has been generating a number of calls and complaints.

"It's about looking to see what folks need, what their needs are and then taking the time to listen to their story," explained Nathan Cox, a neighborhood resource coordinator.

Those stories could include chapters of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health concerns, a need for resources and support—all of which the response team addresses, and in many cases, eliminating the need for police to respond.

"This is something that is a mental health need, a substance abuse need, a co-occurring need, this takes it off their plate and allows us as service provides to do the work to take people off the streets," he said.

While canvassing the area and making relationships with people at an encampment at Howe Ave and Fair Oaks Blvd, DCR ran into Dina Stefani.

"I'm done with this," she explained. "I feel like a dog that's lost on the street, a dog that's lost and can't find their way. That's how I feel, I want my life back."

After years of living on the street and struggling with alcoholism, she woke up Thursday morning praying for a miracle.

"I just need help, just a little bit of help, that's all I need," explained Stefani.

The response team showed up and connected her with a safe ground site to stay at the same day.

"It's a miracle in my life," said Stefani.

While it doesn't always happen that fast, Bridgette Dean, DCR Director, said that's the goal.

"They have a multitude of crisis and trauma and we have to meet them at that space to make sure we are getting the right services at the right time," she explained.

The city council recently fully funded the team, agreeing to spend $5 million toward their efforts. The team now responds to hundreds of calls a week. The department of six typically receives calls through 3-1-1. n some cases when appropriate, 9-1-1 calls are redirected to the response team. Response time ranges anywhere from the same day to three days depending on the need. During emergencies, there are times when both police and the department of response will respond.

Dean explained the department sees success stories daily and is hoping to expand its reach throughout the year. They currently operate Monday through Friday. Their goal is to expand services to 24/7 in the next couple of years as they continue to grow their staffing.

"If we can help one person to get a different space or feel safer than we have won for the day," said Dean.

It's a helping hand Stefani hopes will lead to a new life of opportunity.

"I can do this myself. I know I can. I just need help," she said.

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