How to call for help

Last updated: 12:15 p.m. May 14, 2021

In Santa Cruz Local’s surveys and interviews in recent months, many Santa Cruz County residents said they want to know who they can call for help with mental health crises beyond law enforcement.

At least three mobile response teams provide mental health care services without law enforcement in Santa Cruz County.

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Mobile Emergency Response Team

People who are in mental distress or witnesses of mental crises can call a hotline and a clinician will respond. Depending on the situation and risk, law enforcement may respond as well. The Mobile Emergency Response Team, or MERT, is run by the County of Santa Cruz and includes licensed clinicians. Calls that require crisis response are routed to staff if the caller is a behavioral health county client. Call screeners also provide information on law enforcement response, medical response and the county’s crisis stabilization unit at 2250 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz.

  • Contact and hours: Call 1-800-952-2335. A staff member answers calls 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. An answering service answers calls outside those hours.
  • Vehicles: Six white county cars that are typically Ford Fusions.
  • Services: Clinicians respond “everywhere,” said Cassandra Eslami, who runs the Mobile Emergency Response Team. That often includes homes, churches, homeless camps, sober living environments, shelters, hotels, community centers and streets. “People typically call when they are experiencing mental distress or witnessing crisis episodes with friends, family or colleagues,” Eslami said “This includes hearing from others that they are feeling suicidal.”
  • Number of clients: The program serves about 150 people each month, Eslami said.
  • Other info: Law enforcement occasionally calls on the Mobile Emergency Response Team to respond and vice versa.
  • Funding and funding sources: The projected operating cost for fiscal year 2021-22 is about $1.35 million, its leaders said. Its funding sources include the state’s Mental Health Services Act, federal money and the state’s 2011 prison realignment bill, AB109.
  • Shortcomings: Critics say the 800 number is not well known by families with mental health patients. The hours don’t cover nights and weekends and there are misconceptions that the service doesn’t respond to homes or only responds to registered county mental health patients.

Mobile Emergency Response Team for Youth (MERTY)

South County residents 21 and younger with mental health needs can call a hotline and county-employed bilingual licensed clinicians and a “family support partner” will respond in a van. The team also provides services outside schools, after-school programs and faith-based organizations. More information

  • Contact and hours: Call 1-800-952-2335. A staff member answers calls 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. An answering service answers calls outside those hours. Calls that require crisis response are routed to staff if the caller is a behavioral health county client. Staff also can provide information on law enforcement response, medical response and the county’s crisis stabilization unit at 2250 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz.
  • Vehicles: A Sprinter van with a desk, chairs and wheelchair lift. The program launched for South County youths this year. The van is intended to provide privacy for clients. A separate van for North County is expected to launch in July 2022.
  • Shortcomings: The program launched in 2021 and is untested.

Homeless Persons’ Health Project

People who are homeless can request mental health services from the Homeless Persons’ Health Project, a Santa Cruz-based clinic. Teams of about six county mental health client specialists and public health nurses twice a week visit homeless camps such as the one near San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz. The team is not dispatched to mental health crises, but rather it visits large homeless camps and provides toiletries, food, water, medical supplies, mental health services and links to other county services such as Homeward Bound bus tickets. Staff often connects unsheltered people with county mental health services before crises happen. They build relationships with homeless people and often know them by name. The project also includes a health clinic that offers many other services, including primary and emergency medical care and supportive housing. More information

  • Contact and hours: Services are provided Monday through Friday at the Rebele Family Shelter building, 115-A Coral St., Santa Cruz. Mondays and Wednesdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 831-454-2080 or 800-731-4747 on weekdays. After hours, established patients only can call 831-454-5146.
  • Vehicle: The team recently started using a new, white Sprinter van whose interior has not yet been configured to provide medical services within it. The van now transports staff, not clients.
  • Number of clients: About 540 clients are served on average each month.
  • Other info: Federal and county funding has supported the program in Santa Cruz County since 1989.

Public Health Nurses Marie DelRosario, left, and Suzanne Samson of the Homeless Persons’ Health Project talk to a man during a visit to a homeless camp on Dakota Avenue in Santa Cruz in April. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local)

Law Enforcement in Santa Cruz County

Anyone with or witnessing a mental health emergency can call 911 for help, and law enforcement will respond. Callers can request a deputy or officer trained in crisis intervention or “CIT.” 

In unincorporated areas of the county such as Live Oak, the San Lorenzo Valley, Aptos, Freedom, the Santa Cruz Mountains or the North Coast, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies respond. A mental health liaison may accompany the deputy 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays depending on availability. 

Santa Cruz police and Watsonville police also have mental health liaisons that can respond about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. 

Scotts Valley and Capitola police do not have mental health liaisons but can call on other resources.

  • Contact and hours: 911, 24 hours
  • Vehicle: Patrol vehicles
  • Other info: If a client meets criteria for a 72-hour involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, also known as a “5150 hold,” the person can be taken to the county’s contractor-run Crisis Stabilization Facility or Psychiatric Health Facility, both at 2250 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Beds are limited and patients may be sent to other facilities out of the county. Patients also can visit the facilities for services voluntarily.
  • Shortcomings: Not all officers and deputies have the same level of mental health training to handle calls. Critics say officers and deputies also may be emotionally or physically drained from crime-related calls and may approach mental health crises with varying levels of patience and expertise.
table of mental health crisis responses in Santa Cruz County

(Source: County of Santa Cruz)

Helplines and other resources in Santa Cruz County

National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Santa Cruz County

  • A helpline at 831-427-8020 provides referrals, guidelines for calling 911 and a clearinghouse for other mental health services in Santa Cruz County. 
  • The Spanish language helpline is 831-205-7074
  • More information

Access Team, Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

  • Mental health services and urgent care are available 24 hours by calling 831-454-4170 or 800-952-2335.
  • Bilingual mental health clinicians and psychiatrists provide assessments and referrals to mental health services 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 
  • Walk-in crisis services also are available at 1400 Emeline Ave., Building K., Santa Cruz. More information

Mental Health Client Action Network (MHCAN)

  • Peer support workers are trained in Intentional Peer Support, “an evidence-based method of communication that maximizes self-agency for people with serious diagnoses like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, PTSD, anxiety disorder & others.
  • City rules allow MHCAN to operate no more than 20 hours a week and to serve 50 people daily, said MHCAN Executive Director Sarah Leonard.
  • Call the peer line at 831-469-0479 or visit 1051 Cayuga St, Santa Cruz. More information

This resource page by Stephen Baxter is part of Santa Cruz Local’s Police Reform Series. Read related stories:

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