(Credit: Richard Masoner)
photo credit: 
As expected, officials in Santa Rosa Tuesday approved the first steps in a new policy for responding to homeless people and those in crisis.
Two measures suspending competitive bidding and awarding a million and a half dollars in contracts to Catholic Charities and Buckelew Programs were approved on a 5-0 vote, with one councilmember absent and another recused.
The funds are set to launch inRESPONSE, teams of mental health counselors, homeless outreach specialists and paramedics to respond to certain calls now answered by law enforcement.
Santa Rosa police Captain John Cregan said the new teams could be at work as soon as next month. And that the difference will be noticeable. "Everyone on our team is not armed, they're not performing law enforcement duties, they are just going to be wearing polo shirts, blue jeans, tennis shoes, they have a little ball caps that look distinctly different from a police officer. They are not going to have pepper spray or any type of weapons with them. But with that, we have to assure the safety of our team, and this team is not going to go to service calls that involve crimes, or calls involving hostile people, potentially dangerous situations."
The teams will respond to calls involving suicidal people, those engaged in self harm and people having public outbursts. Plans call to expand the service to 17 hours a day from an initial 10 and to 24 hours within a few years.
Resident Gregory Fearon urged the council seek feedback from those served by the program, both to assure it's meeting goals, but also to qualify for more federal and state money.
"Every grant that I've seen lately, especially the large ones, is demanding that participation by those being served is essential in the evaluation and in the design"
He said the perspective of those in need is important.
"There's a very different point of view in evaluating and deciding things between agency staff and those they serve," he said.
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