SLOPD wants to keep city’s most vulnerable out of jail. Here’s how they plan to do it

A mental health clinician and social worker with experience at San Luis Obispo County’s psychiatric unit and Atascadero State Hospital will join the San Luis Obispo police’s Community Action Team, providing the city’s chronic homeless with an on-the-street link to mental health and other services.

At a news conference Thursday, San Luis Obispo Police chief Deanna Cantrell announced the city’s teaming with the county department of Behavioral Health and the nonprofit Transitions Mental Health Association to provide the additional, non-law enforcement assistance to the Police Department’s team that deals with repeat low-level offenders, including people struggling with mental health issues, homelessness and substance abuse..

The idea is to prevent those people from going to jail.

San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell speaks at a news conference Thursday announcing a plan to pair mental health clinician John Klevins, left, with officers to perform welfare checks and respond to calls for service involving the city’s known chronic low-level offenders or homeless. Matt Fountain mfountain@thetribunenews.com

“This is not always a policing issue,” Cantrell said. “This is a unique and vulnerable population.”

A critical part of the program includes the hiring of clinician John Klevins, who will work for the city full-time through a contract with Transitions Mental Health Association.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved funding for the mental health-focused social worker in February for assignment with the city’s Community Action Team, which focuses on preventative measures and outreach.

Klevins’ position costs roughly $60,000, and is being covered by Mental Health Services Act funding.

Cantrell said Thursday that even though the city’s last homeless population count showed a decline of 15 percent, calls for service have gone up 13 percent in the past year.

She said the amount of time and staff it takes to respond to reports related to homelessness and chronically ill residents is “really significant,” and regardless of whether or not they result in an arrest or citation, reports related to homeless or mentally ill individuals make up 21 percent of all calls for service.

Frank Warren, Mental Health Services Act coordinator for San Luis Obispo County’s Behavioral Health Department, said the joint program has been about two years in the making. After locating the funding and getting approval from the county Board of Supervisors in February, Transitions Mental Health Association was selected as the contractor.

John Klevins, who has previously worked at the county’s 16-bed psychiatric inpatient unit and Atascadero State Hospital, was hired by Transitions Mental Health to embed with San Luis Obispo police Monday through Friday. In his role as the CAT Team Social Worker, Klevins will accompany officers on welfare checks and respond to calls for service or contacts with the city’s known chronic low-level offenders or homeless.

His job will be to establish relationships with frequently contacted people, build trust and get them the services they need.

Klevins on Thursday called the joint effort a “progressive program.”

“I show up, and I’m not wearing a badge, don’t have a gun, don’t have a stick,” Klevins said. “I think that’s very important.”

Cantrell said the department will publish statistical results of the new program following its first full year of operation.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune