Community Welcomes Mental Health Liaison: It’s about meeting people’s basic needs

Community Welcomes Mental Health Liaison: It’s about meeting people’s basic needs

A new partnership between the City of Beaverton and Washington County is working to provide mental health services to those in need.

Whitney Struse, Beaverton’s first mental health liaison, provides specialized consultation, screening, intervention, and referrals to mental health services to defendants who appear in the court.

“Whitney is in the courtroom building relationships with people and their families in hopes that they will access mental health or addictions services,” said Judge Juliet Britton. “She also brings a clinical viewpoint to the court for attorneys and judges to consider as cases progress. The hope is that the root causes of criminal behavior are addressed so the person will stabilize and not reoffend.”

The city and Washington County recently came up with a plan to allow one county employee to be placed in the municipal court as a mental health liaison. The agreement began on July 1, 2019, and is a pilot project expected to last for two years.

The goals of this program are to reduce repeated offenses, instances of failure to appear in court, and the time spent in jail.

“Individuals with mental health issues are not more likely to commit violent crimes but are overly represented in the criminal justice system,” said Washington County Jail Diversion Systems Coordinator Jay Auslander.

The mental health liaison is available to all city departments, including law enforcement if they are having interactions with people who could benefit from services.

“One of the benefits of these Beaverton Police Department consultations with the mental health liaison is that therapeutic intervention and coordination can occur even without criminal charges pending or an arrest,” said Beaverton Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Williams. “This partnership is truly representative of community policing and will undoubtedly improve outcomes for a vulnerable segment of our community.”

Assistance can include access to shelters, food, and clothing.

“It’s about meeting people’s basic needs,” said Struse. “It’s ‘OK, what do you need for the day?’ If you don’t have [your basic needs met], how can you heal/recover?” asked Struse.

For more information about Washington County Mental Health Services, visit www.co.washington.or.us/HHS/mentalhealth. For more information about Beaverton Municipal Court, visit www.BeavertonOregon.gov/court.