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Maine opens first crisis center for mental health, substance use in Portland

"That anybody can walk in at any time and get their needs met -- I think that's qualitatively different."

PORTLAND, Maine — A first-of-its-kind crisis services center has opened in Portland with hopes of providing low-barrier mental health and substance use treatment to people in the moment of their crisis.

The Crisis Receiving Center is located at 62 Elm St. in Portland, near the Oxford Street Shelter and the Preble Street Learning Collaborative. Its operating hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with psychiatry available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and on-call services at night. 

Spurwink Services operates the center in partnership with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Ben Strick, Director of Adult Behavioral Health for Spurwink, said the goal is to make it a 24/7/365 center.

"Other than the emergency department we didn't have a place you could go if you weren't feeling safe or comfortable in your own home," Strick said Monday in an interview. "We're a place for people who are experiencing a crisis and whatever that crisis means to you."

Staff call it the Living Room Crisis Center, partly because of its intentional design: an open room with a front desk and a seating are in the middle of eight private rooms that require badge access to open.

The center offers coffee and snacks, as well as bathrooms with showers, and motion-sensor lights outside the bathroom designed to alert staff that they may need to check the person for a possible overdose.

"If somebody's not moving in the space, the light goes out. We know that we need to go in," Strick said.

The space also has lockers where they ask people to put their belongings, such as substances or items that could be harmful. There is laundry, too, and eventually, there will be a room to dispense medication.

"Once we are up and running 24/7, we will have 24/7 access to emergency psychiatric meds," Strick said. "[If] somebody comes in in acute withdrawal, and is interested in starting medication-assisted treatment, we are going to be able to do that. We are also going to be able to access emergency antipsychotics for people who are really struggling."

In the first two weeks during the center's soft launch, they already have seen clients-turned-success stories, thanks in part to law enforcement tapping this new resource.

"If the police pick up somebody and they think it's more appropriate to bring them here than to jail, we'd really love to have them here," Strick said. 

Anyone who is 14 years old or up is welcome at the center for any type of mental health, behavioral health, or substance use crisis. They do not need insurance.

There is a multi-disciplinary team of nurses, psychiatrists, case managers, and peers who have lived experience in mental health and substance use struggles.

Strick said the partnership with DHHS a unique opportunity.

"That anybody can walk in at any time and get their needs met -- I think that's qualitatively different," he said.

Strick said the state wants to use the CRC as a pilot for six other locations it hopes to replicate across Maine.

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