PL Unarmed Model of Crisis Response Program in the Community

May 1, 2024

UMCR in The Community

The Unarmed Model of Crisis Response Team (UMCR), after months of preparation and training, began serving the community on March 11th.  It has been a great success so far, with much potential. As you may recall, this program was developed to respond to 911 calls that do not require armed police response as they are generally mental health related calls. The majority of the calls that have been coming in have to do with a larger issue that our communities are faced with, and that is the problem of unhoused population and their struggle with substance use and mental illness. The dedicated staff have been responding to these crisis calls while developing plans and interventions based on the needs of the population they are serving.

Among the three agencies that provide UMCR services, Penny Lane Centers is the only agency who has the advantage of having therapists onboard who respond to the calls with their Community Worker partners. Having a clinical perspective in the field provides the opportunity to delve deeper into the chronic symptoms of our community and come up with ideas and plans to decrease the number of calls that go to 911 dispatch.

Based on their observations and experiences so far, almost all their contacts with the unhoused population have been positive and productive. The teams carry snacks and water with them, and this helps with engagement and building rapport. Teams also carry hygiene products, clothing, and blankets to offer them while they are assessing their needs to provide necessary referrals and linkages. Although most of the calls go smoothly, there have been some calls where the individuals refuse services and continue with their disruptive behaviors, usually due to intoxication or psychotic episodes. In these cases, the teams report back to the dispatch center and consult with the clinical manger to plan for either referring back to 911 or calling PMRT.

This program owes its success so far to its staff and their openness to new challenges and their commitment to those who are suffering in our community.  Besides the regular staff who are on 12-hour shifts, UMCR also has been blessed by many Penny Lane staff from other departments who have been filling the open shifts, day, or night. With such dedicated staff, you can bet that this program will become more successful over time and play an important part in the well-being of our community.

-Parviz Nafari, Penny Lane Centers

Check out some more photos below!

UMCR Monthly Success Stories

Darren’s Story

UMCR was dispatched to Darren’s home after he called a body donation center and tried to make arrangements to donate his body to science. The donation center reported that Darren was hopeless and that he said he could not see a way to keep living. Also concerning was the fact that Darren became frustrated with the body donation center, saying it was taking too long, and suddenly hung up the phone.

UMCR arrived at Darren’s residence and team members were concerned when there was no answer at the door and the ringing of the landline could be heard through the open windows. After 15 mins of waiting and asking around Darren returned from the store and UMCR engaged him.  Darren was despondent, he expressed that he didn’t see the point of talking because nothing could get better. UMCR got to know Darren, and eventually Darren became comfortable and started sharing more about what happened in the last few days – Darren had lost his job, which was not only his only source of interaction with others, but also provided him with a sense of purpose and responsibility.

Darren told us that he had not spoken to anyone in the last few days and that he was so distressed that he could not eat. Darren also talked about difficult life experiences, like traumatic events from childhood. UMCR connected with Darren and by the end of the interaction Darren was ready to make plans to find a new job and was open to a follow up visit later in the afternoon. UMCR screened for suicide risk and although Darren was feeling hopeless, he did not have a plan or intent to harm himself.  UMCR was able to identify protective factors and offered alternative perspectives to foster hope.

UMCR returned later that day to see Darren and brought him a hot meal of his choosing so that he could try and eat some food when he felt ready. Darren was open to sharing more about his life and was able to identify previous coping strategies to plan. In addition to exploring Darren’s previous successes related to finding employment, Jacob shared resources with Darren regarding employment support services. Darren was not interested in pursuing mental health treatment or ECM at this time as he wanted to focus on finding work. UMCR provided information for future use on those programs in case he should change his mind.

Chad’s Story

UMCR was dispathed to an RV park because a man was sleeping outside of the women’s restroom and acting erratically and unpredictably. UMCR arrived and checked in with Joan, the manager of the park. Joan said that people often come to the park and sleep overnight, and that they usually ask them to leave in the morning without any issues. In this case, Joan and the residents asked for additional support.

We went to approach the individual.

“Knock, knock.  Good morning, can we talk to you for a few minutes?”

We learned that the man’s name was Chad, and that he has been sleeping outside for 7 years. Chad was mostly incoherent, and we were not totally sure if our words were getting through to him. So, we spent 45 minutes with Chad, provided him some bottled water, snacks, and a new shirt. We arranged for him to use the RV park restroom while we provided indirect supervision. We wrote down a list of needs that Chad expressed, such as a new ID, a fee waiver, and laundry detergent, and gave it back to Chad to take to the DPSS office, where he said he was going.

After Chad left the park, we talked to Joan and some of the long-term residents of the park. We encouraged them to rely on the strength of their community to continue to resolve their conflicts and complimented them for their efforts so far. The group expressed interest in safe parking sites, so we provided flyers for safe parking sites around Los Angeles County and discussed the intake process as well as what to expect at a site.

The UMCR team followed up via telephone 3 days later. Joan reported that the individual had returned a few times since, and that the group had asked him to leave in the morning, which he did without incident. The UMCR therapist again encouraged the community’s efforts, and because the residents don’t use the internet, the therapist offered to put in a LAHSA HOP outreach request on behalf of the park, which Joan accepted.

Michael’s Story

UMCR was dispatched to a remote corner where an individual was living in an RV with belongings strewn about the sidewalk. UMCR approached and engaged with the two men who were living there. UMCR let them know that someone had called 911 about their belongings on the sidewalk. The individuals were happy to tidy up. After that the UMCR therapist got to know one of the individuals, Michael, a bit more – where he is from, how long has been staying there, what is his community like, things like that.

UMCR offered to enroll Michael in ECM services as well as put in a LAHSA HOP outreach ticket. The UMCR therapist took down Michael’s contact information and called him a few days later to gather the needed information for the ECM referral.  A few days later, the therapist was in the neighborhood after other calls and stopped by to say hello to Michael and talked for a couple of minutes.

Dave’s Story

UMCR was dispatched to a strip mall because the owner of the property noticed that a man was sleeping on the walkway and wanted him removed from the property. While the man was sleeping, UMCR talked to the property owner and got to know him a little bit. The property owner was not interested in having a conversation about the issue, he stated that he does not have time to talk about it, he only wants the individual removed.

The man eventually stirred, and UMCR sat with him while he rearranged his belongings and filled his bike tire with air. The man said that he would have been willing to leave if only the property owner had asked him to do so. He was also guarded and suspicious of the UMCR team. The UMCR therapists offered to buy the man a hot meal at the restaurant on the corner, and the group walked over there together. The therapists spent around an hour talking to the man and he eventually began to open, sharing his name (David, friends call me Dave) as well as some of his history. He described where he is currently staying (in a tent) as well as some of his recent past. Multiple people stopped by during this time to say hello to the individual. The UMCR team left him with some clean clothes, water bottles, and a pack of NARCAN, which Dave said he has used on others recently. Dave declined any referrals although he did say he would try to contact 211 later in the day when UMCR informed him that there was a possibility for hotel vouchers due to the weather forecast over the weekend.

Cynthia/Ken/James Story

UMCR was dispatched to a business where some of the tenants reported that a man was making threatening gestures to their customers. UMCR had already been there twice in the last week to talk to each person involved. This time, the UMCR therapists sat with James and got to know his background. He said that he is keeping the area safe and that is why he stays there. He was committed to staying and would not consider leaving because he felt he was keeping it safe.  UMCR gave him some water bottles and some snacks and left after 30 minutes of conversation, at his request.

Immediately following the therapist talked to Ken, who was one of the business owners. Ken described a 6-month relationship with James. Ken said that he has tried offering supportive services such as arranging for a ride to Hope the Mission. Ken said that James has been disrupting their business more and more. The UMCR therapists validated Ken’s feelings of frustration, and started to explore why the relationship with James has been changing. The therapists made space to brainstorm some creative ideas for repairing the relationship or otherwise resolving the conflict. Ken was somewhat receptive. The therapists also walked Ken through the process of submitting a LAHSA HOP outreach request so that he can access that resource if desired.

After talking with Ken, the therapists returned to James to say goodbye and that they will see him next time. Ken was calm and not disrupted when the team departed.

Ariana’s Story

UMCR was dispatched to a residence after Ariana was concerned that an individual was setting up a tent on her driveway. When the team arrived, Ariana and the team approached the tent and noticed it was completely empty. Ariana said that it might belong to someone at the encampment down the block. The UMCR took the tent over to the encampment and confirmed that it did in fact belong to someone there and it had blown away in the wind. The UMCR then stayed at the encampment and talked to residents, discussing events at the encampment, attempts at getting into shelter, and the duties of the UMCR team.

-Naomi Novak, Penny Lane Centers