A new model for responding to mental health calls in B.C. is expanding into Prince George, Kamloops and the Comox Valley.
The B.C. government announced Friday that those three communities are joining their Peer Assisted Care Team project, alongside programs already established in Victoria, the North Shore and New West Minster.
The program, referred to by the acronym PACT, sees a mental health worker and a peer support worker dispatched alongside police to mental health calls in an effort to provide support and counselling.
“When people are in crisis because of mental health challenges, we want them met with care and compassion,” said Jennifer Whiteside, minister of Mental Health and Addictions in a written announcement.
The operators of the programs in the three new communities will be selected later this year.
The province has committed $10 million to fund 10 teams in B.C. municipalities and two in First Nations communities and says it is in the process of selecting the remaining communities to be involved in the program.
270 calls in first six months for first PACT program
The first PACT response team launched on the North Shore in November 2022.
In the first six months of operation, the team responded to over 270 calls said Sean Daoust, a PACT peer support worker with the Canadian Mental Health Association North and West Vancouver branch.
The program operates by establishing a separate telephone number for people experiencing a mental health crisis to call rather than 911. Then, instead of a police car with sirens being dispatched, a mental health worker and peer support worker are accompanied by law enforcement to provide discreet support for the person or people in need.
“Knowing that if I’m in a crisis situation, I don’t need to rush to emergency. I don’t need to call 911. That there is another option and that a care team can come de-escalate the situation, get me through that day and then find what I need going forward,” Doust said in an interview with CBC News in May.
Concerns over police involvement
However, Meenakshi Mannoe, a campaigner with Pivot Legal Society, said while the program has promise, she is deeply concerned that police are involved in the program’s development and, at times, officers are being dispatched by the team.
“It’s not actually fully removing resources from policing. It’s an auxiliary policing program.”
She fears police intervention in mental health crises too often leads to people being funnelled into the criminal justice system.
Instead, she suggests diverting police funds to community grassroots initiatives that respond to mental health crises and that can also provide support to people who use drugs, pointing to the link between the drug crisis and the need for better mental health responses.