Port Townsend Police Department’s navigator helps at-risk community members

Judson Haynes

Judson Haynes

PORT TOWNSEND — The current part-time “navigator” of the Port Townsend Police Department will shift to full time this week to better serve the community and help people struggling with mental health and substance abuse connect with the services they need.

Judson Haynes, a contract counselor with MCS Counseling Group of Silverdale, has worked with the police department since April 1, putting in 27 hours a week helping people connect with the services they need to better their positions, such as finding food, clothes and counseling, and now will be able to fully commit to the position after the Port Townsend City Council voted to cover the cost of the remaining 13 hours a week.

The remaining hours are funded by a grant provided by the one-tenth of one percent sales tax fund administered by the Jefferson County Department of Heath, according to Haynes. The combination of these two sources has secured the program and his position to operate throughout 2019 and 202o.

Navigators exist nationwide — under different program names. In the programs, a social service worker and/or mental health specialist is incorporated with a law enforcement team that assists with mental health or substance abuse cases where the person is unable to find needed services.

In Haynes’s words, his job is “to work directly with individuals who are disconnected with services and get them reconnected.”

The position helps “people who are very disconnected…to get the food, clothes, and medical detox,” he added.

A lot of Haynes’s work is done with members of the homeless community, but it is not limited to them, as he has had multiple calls from others looking for help for either themselves, a friend/family member or a stranger, regardless of their housing situation.

No week is the same. Haynes doesn’t know what each day will bring as people call him with different situations that he has been asked to handle. He also patrols with officers to help handle cases as they happen and to make connections with people who may not have the ability to contact him.

A large part of his job, however, is “helping improve inter-agency communication” between law enforcement and the service providers, courts, attorneys and others.

He helps facilitate the conversations between those agencies so everyone is on the same page, Haynes said.

Chief of Police Michael Evans was one of the biggest proponents for the program and according to Police Sergeant Troy Suber, the department has found it very useful having Haynes around, as he can handle cases and get back to people months before the regular officers could.

The program was started on Jan. 1 officially, but it took coordination between the police department and the city to get it ready for an official navigator to be contracted, according to Haynes.

Port Angeles has had a similar program named “REdisCOVERY” for the last year, and it has been able to connect almost 200 people with services they need, according to Port Angeles community agent Amy Miller.

Both the Port Townsend and Port Angeles programs were inspired by the similar programs in Kitsap County and Everett.

Kimberly Hendrickson — the project manager of the Behavioral Health Outreach Program in Poulsbo who oversees the navigators who service Poulsbo, Bremerton, Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island — discussed how the need for these programs is growing since calls to law enforcement regarding these situations are increasing “and it can be very difficult for law enforcement to handle.”

There are approximately 20 similar navigator programs in Washington state, according to Hendrickson, and she appreciates the interlocking ways they learn from each other.

“We’re all just borrowing from each other in this emerging field,” Hendrickson said.

She said her reason for helping pioneer these programs in Kitsap boiled down to one question: “How can [mental health professionals] support police so we can better support people with mental health issues?”

Both Haynes and Hendrickson agreed that individual programs can be adapted to each police department’s needs and how they operate.

It is still too early for Haynes to have the data support of the impact the project has had, but “this community is small enough that the impacts can be readily seen, or the lack there of,” Haynes said.

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Reporter Zachary Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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