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Santa Monica Launches Ambulance Unit Focused on Homeless

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By Lookout Staff

September 13, 2021 -- The Santa Monica Fire Department rolled out a new ambulance unit Monday that provides an alternative response to 9-1-1 calls for homeless individuals.

The Community Response Unit (CRU) helps treat and transport those experiencing a health or behavior crisis to an urgent care center instead of an emergency room or connects them with supportive services.

Community Response Unit
Community Response Unit (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

The $523,000 two-year pilot program is staffed by two firefighters with specialized training in "mental health emergencies, crisis communications, de-escalation and substance use disorders," City officials said.

The CRU will be in service Monday through Thursday during peak hours, officials said.

“The Santa Monica City Council wholeheartedly moved the Community Response Unit forward earlier this year as one new investment to meet our community priority of addressing homelessness,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.

“The CRU’s ‘one meaningful intervention at a time approach’ will help improve outcomes for individuals experiencing homeless and will serve as an additional team on our streets to meet this crisis head on,” Himmelrich said.

The CRU looks like a typical ambulance but is not "designed to quickly assess, treat, and transport patients to hospital emergency rooms and then be ready for the next emergency," Fire Department officials said.

"When a 9-1-1 call is less urgent and the solution is not necessarily the emergency room, the CRU goes to work and has the latitude to spend more time on scene to help connect those in need with more appropriate resources," said Capt. Patrick Nulty.

The CRU also specializes in "transporting those experiencing a behavior health crisis to a psychiatric urgent care center, rather than an emergency room," Nulty said.

The unit works with other departments and agencies to "help bridge the gap for housing and other support services," while keeping emergency staff and resources "available for higher acute care services."

The CRU is one of the homeless initiatives approved in the City's $1.3 billion biennial budget.

The budget also includes funding to continue deploying multidisciplinary homeless engagement street teams and add two new Community Services Department positions to address the issue.

Said Interim Chief Wolfgang Knabe, “This is something our team has been working toward for a long time and this launch is a big day for us as we evolve our service to uniquely meet the community’s needs.”

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