Collaborative program seeing positive results identifying individuals needing services beyond the criminal justice system


In the Ukiah Daily by Carole Brodskey

We’ve all seen it, and some of us even know someone: a person who, despite the best efforts of families, social service agencies and law enforcement seem beyond reach. Today, a special program called Head’s Up is gathering together representatives from a variety of agencies and organizations to identify and support folks who need assistance but for whatever reason are not receiving the type of help they require.

It all started in 2019 with a single person- an individual who was frequenting the downtown Ukiah area and upsetting individuals and businesses.  Megan Van Sant, Senior Program Manager, Special Projects Team  for the County of Mendocino, who is the project’s facilitator noted that everyone was frustrated.

“This person was in and out of jail, and not making progress. Law Enforcement was frustrated. My team started meeting with the county Probation department and the Ukiah Police Department specifically about this individual.” Though the outcome was not as successful with this person as they would have hoped, the process of meeting together to focus on a specific individual continued.

According to Van Sant, Heads Up provides a pathway for law enforcement agencies in Mendocino County to alert the Behavioral Health and Social Services departments about individuals who have repeated and unproductive interactions with law enforcement, the jail, the social services system, and the behavioral health system.

After receiving a referral, the Heads Up team identifies the most appropriate human services worker and/or organization to respond and follow-up. The goals of the project include providing early identification and diversion of individuals in need of behavioral health and social services support, and identifying the right person to respond to community members needing assistance.  Other community-based organizations are providing additional support through the acceptance of secondary referrals.

The program is not grant funded, which enables the team to work together with fewer funding-related constraints. “It’s definitely a team effort. We’re all trying to do our jobs, but it’s taken years for us to develop trust and understanding, and we didn’t want to announce the program until we’d developed a communications system and had successes under our belt. We’re all showing up and we’re very proud of the work we’ve accomplished.”

One important feature of the project is that no person or agency is in charge.  “In keeping with our common understanding that complex community problems require complex and creative solutions, Heads Up project members recognize that no single agency or administrator is responsible for solving societal problems with multiple causes,” says Van Sant.