New mental health crisis teams should be up and running in New Westminster and Victoria this summer, following in the footsteps of a successful North Shore pilot project.
The province has announced $1.26 million in funding to help create two new Peer Assisted Crisis Teams (PACTs) in New Westminster and Victoria and to expand the existing North and West Vancouver team.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson made the announcement during an event at New Westminster’s Anvil Centre on Monday morning (April 11).
“When people are in crisis, either mental health or substance use challenges, they must be given compassionate and appropriate care. Municipalities tell us that for a variety of complex and intersecting reasons, mental health and substance use challenges have become more common and visible on our streets,” she said.
Malcolmson said those crises have stretched police resources and noted police officers are often not appropriately trained to deal with mental health and substance use issues.
By contrast, PACTs are civilian-led, including both mental health professionals and peer support workers, and support people in distress by connecting them to mental-health and substance-use supports.
Coun. Sarah Potts of the City of Victoria said the PACTs will help bring much-needed change to the way cities can respond to those in crisis.
“We know that health matters are not crimes,” she said, noting the increasing demand for crisis response over the past six years of the drug toxicity epidemic. “These health matters can not be meaningfully addressed by responses that are not health-based.”
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa of New Westminster said police are not the appropriate response for people in crisis.
“We need to go to the root causes of issues,” she said. “Poverty and mental illness aren’t crimes, so we shouldn’t treat them as if they are.”
Jonny Morris, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association B.C. division, said that, since the North Shore team was set up in November 2021, it has already been able to respond to more than 235 calls – in person, by phone and by text.
“We know that individuals, families and communities need care, compassion and support,” he said.
Ultimately, Morris said, there’s a vision to potentially include mental health calls as a fourth option for those who call 911: on top of police, fire and ambulance. For now, PACTs can be reached through a dedicated number provided through the CMHA.
Nooshin Gallehdari, a peer worker with the CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch PACT, said the teams are a key part of supporting those in crisis and in helping to reduce the stigma around mental health.
“I truly believe that PACT is that missing piece that we need in order to invest in our society,” she said.
The new teams in New Westminster and Victoria are expected to be operational by summer 2022.
Both cities have also contributed municipal funding towards the setup of the teams.
How to reach the North Shore PACT team
On the North Shore, people in distress and their families can access the CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch PACT Thursday to Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight by calling 1 888 261-7228 or texting 778 839-1831.
Service is available in English and Farsi.