OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council approved a one-year contract with Mental Health Association Oklahoma (MHAOK) to support a pilot Homeless Street Outreach Program.

The program will implement initiatives recommended by the Strategies to Address Homelessness reportLaw Enforcement Policy Task Force and Community Policing Working group, all of which identified the need for enhanced outreach and coordinated response to mental health calls.

“This program advances the winnable fight to end homelessness,” said Terri White, CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma. “MHAOK is grateful to the City of OKC for expanding our ability to connect with individuals experiencing homelessness and offer a life-changing path from the streets to housing, mental health and medical care, employment and self-sustainability. Working closely with the OKC Police and Fire Departments, we are excited to offer an alternative to police response as well as jail diversion. There is no doubt this program can serve as a model for cities across the country to emulate.”

MHAOK will dedicate two street outreach and crisis response teams to the program.

Each team will be made up of a licensed clinician and two case managers, who will help connect those experiencing homelessness to community resources for housing, mental and physical health, recovery programs, employment assistance and other services.

The teams will also coordinate with the City’s Public Safety Departments to provide a non-police response to calls for assistance when requested, in a co-responder model or on their own.

“At its core, homelessness is not a police issue,” said Police Chief Wade Gourley. “Having a case worker respond to an unsheltered person rather than an officer in uniform can end with better results and frees officers up to respond to other matters.”

City officials say the multidisciplinary team approach will help triage and de-escalate situations involving people experiencing mental health crises. It also helps first responders choose alternative options such as behavioral health services to reduce costly stays in jail and emergency room visits as well as improve quality of care and outcomes for people needing assistance.

“This partnership aligns with the Fire Department’s mission to ‘Meet the Need’,” said Fire Chief Richard Kelley. “It will also expand our horizons in serving our homeless community with direct access to a licensed professional.”

City officials say the contract with MHAOK cannot to exceed $572,000.