Yolo County Receives Grant for Harm Reduction Pilot Program

By Robert J Hansen

Woodland, CA – Yolo County Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) and the Yolo County District Attorney (DA) announced they will receive $7M in state grant funding meant to reduce recidivism by expanding services to address “complex facing system-involved people,” according to a Yolo County press release.

HHSA received $6M to fund the Connections to Community, Assistance, Recovery, and Engagement program (CARE). The DA was awarded $1M to fund the Pathway to Home program.

In 2021, a Harm Reduction (HR-Diversion) Pilot project was launched by the DA’s office in partnership with HHSA where individuals arrested for certain drug-related offenses would be sent a letter indicating that their charges would be dismissed if they completed screening to determine appropriate substance use or mental health treatment needs.

Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig modified the original HR-Diversion pilot in January 2022 so that individuals cited and/or arrested for drug possession and related offenses are now formally charged with all appropriate offenses.

Reisig’s office modified HR-Diversion citing data from the first six months of the HR-Diversion program, which showed that less than 15 percent of those criminally arrested for eligible drug offenses contacted HHSA at all. And just 10 percent of those individuals referred had engaged in any form of substance use treatment.

“Unfortunately, the results of our program proved that this type of harm reduction approach for such drug offenses is not an effective strategy. While it was important for us to test such a model, our experience and the data have unequivocally established that more is needed to encourage meaningful engagement and treatment by the affected population,” Reisig said.

As of April 1, 2022, the process for HR-Diversion for qualifying drug offenses is the DA’s office provides a letter to the individual in court stating they needed to contact one of the Access points in Yolo County to conduct a screening for substance use or mental health services, according to Ian Evans, HHSA Adult and Aging Branch Director.

“If they do so and bring proof to their next court date the charge would be dropped,” Evans said via email. “The letter is also sent to an HHSA case manager who attempts to call the individual utilizing the phone number provided on the letter to help provide linkage to the Access points.”

Until April 1, 2022, the letters mailed to the participants following their initial court date were their only method of informing individuals how to complete the program according to Evans.

“As of April 1, 2022, the letter was given in court on the date of their initial hearing where they were charged,” Evans said.

There was no funding for dedicated staff to support the individuals who received the letters Evans said.

HHSA staff tracked the number of clients referred, the number of individuals who contacted an Access point, and those referred for treatment and used this information to help inform potential system improvements like hiring staff to provide wraparound services to the individuals referred in the Harm Reduction program.

“This is what that grant will address, staff, to support the individuals in navigating the many systems of need,” Evans said.

Evans said the referral pathway will be similar to HR-Diversion in many ways, however, the funding for Connections to CARE will allow for a wraparound team of clinicians, case managers, and peer Support workers to provide services to 50 individuals at a time, helping them to navigate MediCal, Housing, substance use, mental Health, and other services identified as needed to support the client.

“We are very excited continue our partnership with HHSA on an innovative program which will provide much needed and deserved support to the underserved population of individuals who live with mental illness or substance use disorders, commit misdemeanor level crimes, and are determined by a judge to be incompetent to stand trial,” Reisig said. “Recent changes to the law have left this population in the dust – this wraparound program with housing support is designed to provide services to these individuals who are also experiencing homelessness.”

The CARE project aims to improve the behavioral health and well-being of participants with identified behavioral health needs.

“We plan to emulate the success of our first Proposition 47 funded program by continuing the robust collaboration between the different County departments and the Community-based nonprofits,” Anisa Vallejo, HHSA Program Coordinator, said.

Connections to CARE is anticipated to launch in March 2023 and run for 36 months. It is anticipated that most clients will spend 9-12 months in the program.

The initial date was from the first year of the program and staff from HHSA and the DA’s office is working on collecting data through June 2022 to help determine if the change in the protocol as of April 1, 2022, had a positive effect on those referred, according to Evans.

“With the funding received from the BSCC for the Connections to CARE program, staff will have an opportunity to gauge the success of a 36-month program,” Evans said.

Evans also anticipated that approximately $1,000,000 of the $6,000,000 will go directly to Housing support for clients.

There are two licensed substance use providers in Yolo County currently, Walter’s House and Cache Creek Lodge.

HHSA currently contracts with Walter’s House and Cache Creek Lodge primarily to serve the parole population, and Walter’s House is a 44-bed facility.

There are four outpatient Treatment sites in Yolo County that HHSA contracts with and one Narcotic Treatment Program (NTP) facility located in Yolo County currently, and HHSA contracts with them.

Evans said that thanks to a recent $12M grant obtained by Friends of the Mission in partnership with Fourth & Hope, City of Woodland, and HHSA, a new 60-bed facility will be built on the East Beamer Way campus in Woodland that is anticipated to open sometime in 2023.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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