COVID Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion/Let Everyone Advance with Dignity (CoLEAD)

 

Grantee: Public Defender Association
Timeframe: July 2022 – June 2023 | Amount: $150,000

CoLEAD addresses social determinants of health, and builds bridges to health care, by providing comprehensive care to people at risk of involvement with the legal system due to behavioral health issues, substance use disorder, and homelessness.

The CoLEAD program bridges a well-documented chasm between the health care system and individuals whose behavioral health needs have primarily been confronted, not with high quality, trauma-informed care–but with jail and prosecution. That behavioral health needs are handled differently for different populations is well-known and a long-standing problem throughout the US. In King County, however, it was documented in detail over the past decade–and then exploded to a critical level in 2020.

Public Defender Association (PDA) will use PHPDA grant funds to continue CoLEAD after federal COVID relief funds expire, and if successful, will continue to focus on this same population of individuals living unsheltered, with history in or exposed to the criminal legal system, with complex behavioral health needs, typically involving SUD and other serious mental illness, who are predominantly BIPOC in King County. The model involves 6-9 months of intensive case management, needs identification, issue resolution, and development of an exit plan to stable living in permanent housing and with a stable legal income source, either via disability income or through employment. We’ve been successful in identifying permanent housing placements for all of our current 170 participants, with ongoing case management; and as those moves are made, space for hundreds more individuals will be available, allowing us over the next 15 months to work with approximately 300 additional participants drawn from downtown Seattle, the Chinatown/International District, and Pioneer Square. This complements the Regional Homelessness Authority’s plan to engage others who present lower barriers and have less legal system involvement/exposure.

Grant funds will be used (1) to contract with an expert in behavioral health credentialing to set up the care team to potentially be Medicaid-reimbursable or to be fundable by Medicaid waiver dollars, partnering with Healthier Here, the King County Medicaid waiver administrator; & (2) to hire a project manager to oversee the transition of JustCARE from an emergency response supported by temporary COVID relief funds, to a permanent part of the region’s response to a population whose health needs have been chronically neglected and which has, relatedly, been chronically exposed to the criminal legal system.

Prospects appear good for City of Seattle and Regional Homelessness Authority investment to continue this work past its current expiration date of June 30, but PDA needs a leader to oversee that transition and long-term planning. Specifically, in discussions with Seattle and the RHA about maintaining funding for the program, PDA asked to maintain in our current facilities through December 2022, then transition to facilities they purchase that are best configured for this work (e.g., with included baths and kitchens, ADA accessible, and with space configured in a way that supports staff and participant safety needs) at a staggered pace that minimizes disruption for programming and participants, and maximizes impact. This conversion from a temporary to a permanent program will be a massive logistical and coordination undertaking, requiring a dedicated project manager. We attempted to make similar moves in 2021 when commercial hotels needed to move away from this line of business as they started to re-open, and consumed the dedicated case management team with logistics and facilities issues that we learned from experience need a dedicated project manager. PDA will need to be responsive to funder requirements and expectations while managing a complex transition with hundreds of participants and dozens of staff who need to concentrate on their recovery and case management obligations.

ABOUT OUR GRANTEE

Public Defender Association

The Public Defender Association (PDA) advances social and racial equity and community health through reform of the criminal legal system and public health advocacy. PDA exists to design and implement community care-based alternatives to punitive systems, to effectively respond to public safety and order issues related to behavioral health needs and income instability. For example, PDA was a primary voice in the Familiar Faces project, hosted by King County, from 2015-2018, which focused on the intersection of disability, race and the criminal legal system, and devised strategies to address the social determinants of health of the population that has historically been disproportionately subjected to the legal system instead of being offered care for health needs. PDA continues to help develop and nurture projects that build power and advance public policy shifts away from punitive paradigms and toward trauma-informed care and alternative mechanisms of accountability. These programs are staffed and led primarily by people with lived experience of the conditions our programs address. PDA’s core programs address currently and formerly incarcerated individuals with behavioral health conditions, who live in extreme poverty, often experiencing homelessness and are engaged in the illicit economy, who have been harmed and experience violence and trauma from mass incarceration.

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