In Three Years, Sanford Police Department’s Mental Health Unit Has Received $330,000 From Outside Sources
On July 1, 2022, the Sanford Police Department will receive a $125,000 COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant. The grant will be used to put a second officer in the department’s Mental Health Unit (MHU). Sanford’s MHU provides aid and resources for those experiencing homelessness, substance use disorder (SUD), and mental health crises. The Unit currently consists of Community Outreach Officer Colleen Adams and OPTIONS (Overdose Preventions Through Extensive Outreach Naloxone) Clinician Lacey Bailey. The Sanford PD is looking to continue expanding the Unit in an effort to offer more services and connect more people to programs and treatments that work for their specific needs.
Deputy Chief Eric Small explained many of the calls Adams responds to are two-person calls and a patrol officer must accompany her. “MHU’s goal is to have two officers in the Unit, who are specially trained to address unique issues. This co-response model will free up patrol officers to focus on other aspects of law enforcement.”
The Mental Health Unit at the Sanford Police Department began to take shape in the summer of 2019. City police noticed an increase in people experiencing homelessness and homeless encampments in Sanford’s woods. DC Small, who was a Detective at that time, took the lead and started meeting with those living in the wooded areas and asking them about their needs, and how he might be able to assist. Four other Sanford police officers worked part-time helping homeless individuals, bringing them to doctor appointments, to York County Shelter Programs, and assisting them in getting identification. “It was a team effort between the Sanford PD and our Community Partners.” Small said. “These partnerships are essential for the work we do.”
Community Partners like York County Community Action set up a popup Resource Tent. In the tent, homeless individuals could access outreach workers, medical and behavioral staff from Nasson Health Care, and workers from York County Shelter Programs and the Sanford Housing Authority.
Even after the homeless encampments were cleared, the Sanford PD recognized there was still work to be done in the community around mental health, homelessness, and substance use disorder (SUD). From here the Community Outreach Officer position was created. In August 2021, the Mental Health Unit was formed.
The Unit has two large goals- to help Sanford’s vulnerable population and find additional funding to help assist in community outreach.
“We didn’t use any city or local taxpayer money to get the program off the ground. But the community has been extremely supportive from the start,” said Small.
In 2019, the MHU was able to get its first vehicle via a $10,000 grant obtained through Strategies for a Stronger Sanford- Drug-Free program. Another $10,000 was raised by the Sanford/Springvale Rotary Club this winter to help pay for items for those experiencing homelessness. Sanford residents help the City’s homeless population by donating clothing and gift cards to local grocery stores and restaurants. Sanford’s North Parish Congregational Church has embraced the MHU mission. North Parish accepts clothing donations, washes them, and displays them on racks in the “Community Closet” for anyone in need. The church has helped provide two fully furnished apartments for two individuals who were previously homeless.
The community has helped the MHU, as the SPD continued to look outside Sanford for additional funding to bolster the newly formed unit, which is a regional response. In the past 3 years, the MHU has received approximately $310,000 in aid from external sources. These outside sources are vital in ensuring the success of the Unit emphasized Adams.
“Monies raised by outside sources are used to directly help those in our community. We are able to use that money for last-minute and emergency needs, basic care items, and other things that we would normally not be able to assist with. The more grants we can get, the more unique opportunities we can have to add different factions to the Unit to help not only the Unit but patrol officers, our city, and people within our region.”
Funding opportunities include $20,000 awarded to the Sanford PD from The Maine Department of Public Safety for working with the OPTIONS Clinician. The York County OPTIONS Clinician was located in the Kennebunk PD but is employed through Sweetser. The Sanford PD looked to create a more concrete partnership with OPTIONS. In 2021, the Maine Department of Public Safety granted the MHU $138,630 and the OPTIONS Clinician was relocated to the Sanford PD. As a stipulation of the grant, Officer Adams will spend about 40% of her time responding to calls with the OPTIONS Clinician across York County.
The MHU is looking to expand its team by employing a full-time mental health clinician. The clinician will work alongside Officer Adams and the OPTIONS Clinician responding to and following up on calls. The MHU was able to find partial funding for this position- a $26,440 grant through the Maine Department of Public Safety FY 2022 Substance Use Disorder Program. The PD is hopeful the mental health clinician will join the Unit this summer.
Some grant opportunities seem “too good to be true.” One of these opportunities was for a free employee to be fully integrated into the MHU for one year through PAARI (Police Assistive Addiction and Recovery Initiative). The Sanford PD was successful in its grant application and is currently figuring out what the position will look like. The Sanford PD says it will make the most of this temporary free employee and is hopeful they will assist in fostering and sustaining the long-term funding and goals of the MHU.
Despite being a newer unit, the MHU stays busy. From Jan. 1-June 1, 2022, Adams responded to 221 calls while working in the Unit. These calls include unhoused calls, mental health calls, overdose follow-ups, and meeting with people who are looking for recovery/harm reduction. Much of what the Unit works in does not have calls assigned to them such as working with other agencies to help individuals, follow-ups with agencies, meetings, committees, etc.
“I hope that as the unit grows, we continue to offer the services that benefit our community as it also grows and changes over time,” says Adams.