Response teams made up of law enforcement professionals, mental health clinicians, substance abuse counselors, medical professionals and community outreach workers continue to engage and assess individuals who are struggling with mental health and abuse, and those panhandlers who have become aggressive to feed their mental health and addiction needs.
Mayor Sarno states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for mental health and addiction resources and services across the country. I want to thank Sheriff Nick Cocchi and his team, and all of our community outreach partners for coming together to work with my dedicated city team to create this special response and engagement initiative – Project Rescue. Working together this dedicated community response and engagement team can address and provide the services and resources needed for those individuals in need, especially those suffering from mental health or addiction. Another objective of Project Rescue will be to include mobile vans capable of responding and providing outreach efforts and assistance to panhandlers, especially those that have become more and more aggressive in their search to fuel their addiction.”
Mayor Sarno added that the Project Rescue initiative is an opportunity to bring help, services and resources to those in need and that this relationship building and interacting event will connect with those who are struggling. That outreach and referrals are key to bringing hope and services to those in need.
“This is not a policing initiative or a show of force operation. This is a humanitarian and public and mental health initiative to save lives,” Mayor Sarno added. “We want to work with our public health, mental health and addiction network team to provide the services, treatment and resources available to help these individuals in need.”
Sheriff Cocchi, whose department recently partnered with the Holyoke Police Department on a similar initiative, said the community engagement operation there made a difference by offering people on-demand addiction treatment options and mental health services.
“This is an innovative collaboration that allows us to bring help, hope and compassion to the streets, right to the people who need it most,” Sheriff Cocchi said. “We’ve seen how the pandemic pushed more people into addiction, and we’re not standing by and waiting for things to get better. We’re going into the most difficult neighborhoods across Hampden County and helping make things better.”
The Sheriff continued adding that this partnership, which includes numerous agencies and organizations, is about building a relationship with those in need of services is crucial in order to get them the help and services they need.
HHS Commissioner Caulton-Harris added, “The Springfield Department of Health and Human Services has long been an advocate to providing services and resources to those in need. Project Rescue is a collaborative effort with all of our public and private stakeholders to address the growing concerns and need for resources to address mental health, addiction and panhandling, all of which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This ‘all hands of deck’ approach will focus on positive community outreach and engagement initiatives for a healthier and safer Springfield community.”
HHS Commissioner Caulton-Harris added that her Office of Racial Equity will also be present and provide outreach efforts alongside mental health clinicians and outreach workers.
Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood spoke about how the Springfield Police Departments previous efforts of arresting drug dealers and other bad actors that were not from the neighborhood will help Project Rescue succeed so that the collaborative outreach efforts can reach those in need.
Police Superintendent Clapprood said, “The brave and dedicated women and men of the Springfield Police Department welcome this joint initiative to help tackle this growing concern of mental health, addiction and panhandling. The more resources and collaborative partnerships we have to address the public health and mental health needs of our community, the better the Springfield Police Department can serve our residents and business community.”
Mayor Sarno added, “Just like a garden that needs to be weeded, we first had to weed out the violent criminal element and individuals that deal poison on our streets. Unfortunately, as was reported to me from Police Superintendent Clapprood and Sheriff Cocchi, that once again our court system and judges have released a number of these individuals right back onto our streets and into our neighborhoods, which once again, defeats the purpose and hinders not only our public safety operation but just as important Project Rescue’s compassionate outreach operations to help those truly in need.”
Springfield Fire Commissioner BJ Calvi spoke on how the Springfield Fire Department is the trident of first responders along with AMR and the Springfield Police Department that responds to call for service and saves lives, especially for overdose calls where Fire Department personnel have to administer Narcan.
Fire Commissioner Calvi stated, “The Springfield Fire Department welcomes this joint partnership and looks forward to being a part of Project Rescue. This collaborative response will provide the resources needed from our public and private stakeholders to help those individuals in need of mental health and addiction services.”
Gándara Center Chief Executive Officer, Lois Nesci added, “Mental Health and substance use are critical issues in our community. We are committed to working with the City to help those in need of behavioral health services. I applaud the Mayor for taking steps to address these concerns.”