Wellbeing aid in the field | PostIndependent.com

Wellbeing aid in the field

Crisis, addiction and homelessness response from Aspen Hope Center and Mind Springs

Michelle Muething with Aspen Hope Center speaks about the intertwining collaboration between the hope center and local police departments.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Since the pandemic began, demand for mental health assistance has climbed.

In Garfield County, two agencies are addressing the immediate, crisis co-response needs and the long-term, homelessness and addiction needs of the community. The Aspen Hope Center and Mind Springs’ new Homelessness Street Outreach program send workers out into the field to meet those in need in their spaces.

Aspen Hope Center

An escalating crisis can snowball out of control. A moment of existential panic, traumatic event or even a culmination of circumstances can carry lasting consequences if left unaddressed.

And while it’s perfectly OK to get help, it’s also incredibly difficult to take that first step.

That’s when, throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County, a police officer steps to the side and a mental health clinician steps in, helping to avoid arrest, hospitalization or worse.

Aspen Hope Center began providing mobile crisis and law enforcement co-response in 2010, four years before the state of Colorado started its program. They currently field between 400 and 500 calls a year for boots-on-the-ground, immediate crisis counseling. Trained mental health professionals coordinate or take over communications in the field, with better odds of de-escalating a situation and producing more amicable outcomes than may have been possible without them.

“The general community member can see that police officers take a back seat to the mental health need at hand,” Aspen Hope Center Executive Director Michelle Muething said. “Even some of the most psychotic individuals who never wanted law enforcement around, they start to shift their perception, seeing them standing side by side with us. A clinician in a jacket and jeans can go, ‘I got this if you’re OK.’”

Clinicians get dispatched either by law enforcement and EMS agencies or through their internal crisis hotline. The amount of information they receive varies from a responding officer telling them they need a hand with a situation with no further details to a full layout of the situation and individual’s history. It can be a high-stakes puzzle with life and death on the line.

“I just love the adrenaline and not knowing what you’re walking into,” clinician Kelly Cooper said. “Not knowing any background information and instantly having to assess what they are going through.”

Cooper also noted that it allows mental health resources to reach those who might not receive it normally. Breaking through stigmas, access issues and general unawareness, it’s another way for people to gain access to resources they need. It’s a direct contrast to the groups of people who coordinate therapy sessions around their schedules and budgets.

The team is also changing the way law enforcement views dispatches. Local agencies, like the Rifle Police Department, have enlisted the center for mental crisis training.

“Aspen Hope has been an exceptional partner,” Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein said. “Their work provides optimal services to the client and reduces the workload for our hospital and our agency. They’ve also taken the time on several occasions to provide training and present information on their services to our team.”

Muething equates the center to the hub of a wheel. It’s just the part in which the spokes — different partners that can assist with different kinds of crises — connect to the person in need. The spokes aren’t all related to mental health, either. Clinician Mia King said she’s currently in the midst of helping someone find a way to get heating in their home.

“The crisis is defined by the caller,” Muething said.

Those seeking mental health assistance can call the center at its 24-hour crisis hotline called HopeLine at 970-925-5858.

Mind Springs’ Homeless Street Outreach

Mind Springs was in the mobile recovery game until funding ran out in May. However, what Glenwood Springs Outpatient Program Director Hans Lutgring calls “Mobile Recovery Team 2.0” is just starting to introduce itself to Garfield County.

The Homelessness Street Outreach program doesn’t co-respond to in-the-moment mental health emergencies like Aspen Hope Center does. It doesn’t have trained clinicians in the field.

Instead, Mind Springs sends “peer specialists” out to assist people grappling with homelessness and its contributing factors, such as addiction.

These peer specialists are advocates who have experienced homelessness and more. They don’t do therapy, Lutgring said. They do “motivational interviewing.”

“They’re going to be able to talk about the hope of recovery, whether it’s homelessness, substance abuse or mental illness,” Lutgring said. “It puts these professional peers in a place of saying, ‘I’ve been there. I know what’s going on, and I can talk to you about the possibility, the hope of recovery. I’m living proof it works.’”

The group will, like Aspen Hope Center, take referrals from internal calls, local hospitals and law enforcement. They’ll even work closely with Aspen Hope Center, Lutgring says.

In turbulent housing times, where positions are going unfilled valley-wide due to an increasing cost of living, the project tackles homelessness at all levels, be it extreme, living-on-the-streets level or couch-surfing. Lutgring emphasized that the programming is available to anybody lacking “permanent, supportive housing.”

Like the Hope Center, the Homelessness Street Outreach program acts as the landing pad for people to be introduced to help, sending them in the direction of resources that can aid them. The program just began accepting referrals the week of Sept. 13.

Programming through Mind Springs is available at 970-945-2583.

Phone resources

Aspen Hope Center HopeLine: 970-925-5858

Callers are connected directly with a clinician who can decide if a field response is necessary or direct them to resources for help. Clinicians assist with mental health crises.

Mind Springs: 970-945-2583

Availability for in-patient counseling or connection to Homeless Street Outreach assistance. Clinicians assist with mental health wellness and peer specialists assist with homelessness and addiction.

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