Despite challenges, a program meant to curb the devastating effect of addiction on Cottonwood’s homeless population is closer to fruition.
The Cottonwood Police Department, in collaboration with the Cottonwood city prosecutor and public defender, Spectrum Healthcare Integrated Care Arizona and Angie’s House, has been awarded a $5,000 grant from the Arizona Community Foundation of Yavapai County.
The grant will help start Cottonwood Cares, a program to provide temporary shelter for homeless defendants who may be found incompetent to stand trial in municipal court at the misdemeanor level.
According to CPD, the objective of the program is to “reduce the number of individuals diagnosed with mental illness from penetrating deeper into the criminal justice system through temporary housing and treatment.”
At its core, Cottonwood Cares is intended to make up for a lack of jail diversion programs for misdemeanor level defendants.
In Yavapai County, the prerequisite for such programs is a felony. Housing through Cottonwood Cares would be voluntary contingent upon evaluation and acceptance of mental health care from certified providers.
“We recently had two defendants at the misdemeanor level who were found to be incompetent to stand trial,” CPD Chief Steve Gesell said. “Both were homeless, from what I understand. Ordinarily, we would compel them to accept mental health care along with other structured goals in the alternative sentencing program.
“Being that was not possible, they simply fell through the cracks and won’t receive mental health care unless they commit felonies.
“We held several meetings to find alternative solutions, which we identified few. [Cottonwood Cares] was borne out of the hope shelter could be used as an incentive to accept services. We are extremely grateful to receive the funding from the Arizona Community Foundation. Municipal governments are typically not in the business of providing direct social services of this type.”
Last year, the city of Cottonwood looked as though it would help fund Cottonwood Cares. According to Mayor Timothy Elinski, however, the 2017-18 fiscal year would not allow for the expenditure necessary to initiate the program.
“Ironically, we would have submitted a request for the seed money to cover the media plan for Cottonwood Cares if I wasn’t confident the city and a health care donor would be able to get it started,” Gesell said. “Unfortunately, the city can’t fund it at this time and the donor request surprisingly was rejected .... I always say government acting alone can solve very few issues facing our cities. Community support and involvement is critical many times in making good things happen.”
Gesell said CPD and its partners have already funded the public service announcement production costs with a discounted rate through Cable One. In mid-July, the cottonwoodcares.com website will go live.
“I don’t think many believe the justice system is the best solution for our mental health issues in our country,” Gesell said. “History has taught us it’s expensive, and more importantly, doesn’t achieve the desired result of reduction in recidivism .... I’m confident the Cottonwood Cares initiative will be successful and will progress organically with support from our residents and business community. It doesn’t hurt that support will also be tax deductible.”