East coast transplant
A few months back we wrote about a program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS that dispatches social workers instead of police to certain nonviolent 911 calls. The results have been impressive: CAHOOTS has decreased the number of harmful interactions between police and people with drug or mental health issues. It has also saved the city millions of dollars, since CAHOOTS’s operating costs are only about two percent of the police department’s budget, yet it handles about 20 percent of calls to the cops.
But the big question has always been whether the CAHOOTS model could work in larger, more diverse cities, where issues of policing, mental health, drug addiction and homelessness are deeply connected to racial discrimination. (Only about two percent of Eugene’s residents are Black.)
Now, there’s evidence that it might. New York City just piloted a similar program that dispatches behavioral health specialists to mental health crisis calls. The program, called B-HEARD, launched last month in Harlem, where teams of three social workers responded to over a hundred 911 calls. Some 95 percent of the people B-HEARD responders approached accepted their help, compared to 82 percent who typically accept help from police or EMS workers.
The B-HEARD responders were also more meticulous about what kind of help they provided, sending fewer people to hospitals and more to community-based health centers. The pilot’s success has already convinced the city to expand it, increasing the number of B-HEARD dispatches from 25 percent of 911 calls to 50 percent. “This is great news,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman. “A smarter approach to public health and public safety. A smarter use of resources. And the evidence… shows that responding with care works.”
Use your words
Neuroscientists will tell you that making art can be mentally stabilizing, which is why Kathy Friedman, a Toronto-area writer who struggles with mental health issues, decided to launch a series of writing workshops for people like herself. “I’d been writing creatively since I learned how to hold a pencil, and I’d been dealing with mental health issues for almost as long. But I had never really put the two together,” she says.
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Now, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Friedman runs Inkwell Workshops, an organization that holds free weekly drop-in writing seminars for people who have experienced addiction or mental health challenges. Each class is led by a professional writer who has struggled with mental health issues themselves. These days, the workshops are held virtually, attracting about 20 participants each time (before the pandemic they were larger) and in some cases have even led to published work — a series called “New Writing from Inkwell Workshops” just had its fourth book in the anthology put out by one of Canada’s largest independent publishing houses.
Lately, the group has worked to encourage more participants from Indigenous groups, many of which struggle with high rates of addiction and mental health challenges. “We don’t just want to say to people, ‘You’re welcome to join us,’” Friedman told the Toronto Star. “We want to be able to say, ‘You’re welcome to join us, and we have created this space with you in mind.’”
How do you convince a bird to relocate? In the old-growth forests of the Oregon coast, scientists are leveraging one particular seabird’s desire for company.
The marbled murrelet builds its cozy nests in the branches of old-growth trees, a habitat under threat from the commercial logging industry. To lure the birds out of harm’s way, Oregon State University biologists have been broadcasting the recorded calls of murrelets to encourage them to move to safer parts of the forest. It turns out the murrelets follow the sounds of their feathered friends when deciding where to nest. After trying out the trick during the 2016 breeding season, the scientists found that four times as many murrelets nested where the recorded calls were broadcast as in the control area.
Crucially, even after the broadcasts stop, it appears that the birds remain in their new locations once they’ve moved there. “They’ll return year after year to the same stand to nest as long as there are no changes,” said one OSU biologist. “Despite their solitary nesting habits, marbled murrelets are still a sociable bird.”