New mental health crisis center in Kansas City has helped more than 200 people in less than two months

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New hope for the mentally ill and new options for police who must confront them – a new mental health crisis center in Kansas City, Mo., is making a difference two months after it opened.

The Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center is the first of its kind in Missouri, opening its doors in late October near E. 12 Street and Prospect Avenue.

So far, the center has helped more than 200 people get the resources and support they desperate need.

“Most people do want to make a change in their life,” said Stephanie Boyer, program director. “A lot of people just don’t know where to start.”

Boyer said when police respond to a 911 call and encounter someone suffering from a mental illness or alcohol/drug addiction, they're often faced with just two options: take them to an emergency room or take them to jail.

The new center aims to stop that vicious cycle.

“Everyone agreed that we could do better,” Boyer said, “that there was a gap in services and that sending people to jail and the emergency room just wasn’t really getting people connected.”

Russell Newlun is one of those people. He told FOX 4 his problems began in 2011, when both his parents passed away just a month apart.

“When they passed, my life fell apart,” Newlun said, “and I just dove deeper into drug addiction.”

He also battled schizophrenia, a mental illness that started to take over his life.

“My psychosis has led me all over the streets of Kansas City,” Newlun said. “Homelessness, living like a deer for the last 8 or 7 years…”

His ongoing struggles eventually led him to the new assessment and triage center, making him one of their first participants.

“We’ve seen about 200 people so far come through our door, so we`ve been excited about that,” Boyer said.

It’s a program made possible with the help of the attorney general and Ascension Health, a company that sold two area hospitals earlier this year and gave its $20 million profit to create the center.

“We can have a total of 18 people here technically,” Boyer said of the facility’s available spaces, which are only open to people referred to the center by police or participating emergency rooms.

The center provides temporary housing, clean clothes, and short and long-term health assessments.

“It`s person-centered, client-centered care,” said Lily Pavone, a licensed master social worker with the center. “So there`s not a one fix, blanket solution for everybody.”

Pavone said the most important piece of assessment is getting to know people’s stories.

“Just appreciating them as a human being, as a person,” Pavone said. “Societal, it’s kind of like, ‘Well it’s your fault,’ or ‘You deserve this,’ or ‘You did something wrong.’”

“So even just being the person that’s listening to their story, because a lot of people aren’t listened to, and they don’t get a chance to share their story.”

It’s much-needed support Newlun says he's never had before and won't soon forget.

“I owe them a great deal,” Newlun said of people working at the center, “because they`ve done so much for me in my time here.”

He continued, “Now I’m wanting to set my life straight, get back out there and do the right thing. They`re giving me all the resources available to do so. I’m very grateful.”

Right now Newlun is still homeless, but he was just awarded a government-funded Shelter Plus Care voucher, which will help him rent his own apartment. His case worker is helping him look for a permanent place to stay this week.