Newport Beach approves $1.2-million contract for mobile mental health response services

The Be Well Huntington Beach van.
The Be Well Huntington Beach van responds to mental health and personal assistance calls. It debuted earlier this month. Newport Beach will be adopting a similar program in December.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach will soon have its own mobile mental health service response team with the approval of a $1.2-million contract between the city and Mind OC, the nonprofit that operates Be Well OC.

The Newport Beach City Council unanimously approved the contract Tuesday night, with Councilwoman Diane Dixon describing the contract as “hopefully the last link — the missing link — that we can really serve the people. ... we’re doing our part for Orange County.”

City staff said the price tag of the program has been offset by an anonymous donation of $132,000, which is expected to finance the van and initial set-up costs. Federal grants will be used to pay for $717,000 and the remaining difference of $376,000 is expected to come from funding allocated for the bridge shelter at 3175 Airway Ave., run in partnership with neighboring Costa Mesa.


The Be Well OC partnership is expected to launch in December and will mirror services offered in Huntington Beach, which officially launched the first such mobile crisis response team with Be Well OC in September. It will initially be a one-year pilot program.

It is based on the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program that has been successful in Eugene, Ore.

The cities of Garden Grove and Irvine are also in the process of launching their own mobile teams.

City staff said experienced crisis counselors and paramedics will be able to respond to non-emergency and emergency mental health calls. Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs said Newport Beach police and fire receive about 4,500 calls a year for mental health service.

The Be Well van will be manned by a two-person team, who will be working 12 hours daily and seven days a week.

Patients will be transported to local crisis centers, detox facilities or shelters as needed. Services will be available to the wider community, including both residents and homeless individuals.

Once the program gets rolling, police and fire are expected to collaborate with Be Well to determine when it’s appropriate to bring them on-site.

When not answering calls, the organization will be working to address homelessness in Newport Beach. That population currently averages between 60 in the winter to 95 in the summers and the city has seen an increase in homelessness during the pandemic.

“We want to make sure that the person is being taken care of from the police and fire standpoint first, but sometimes our police and fire department may ask Be Well to go in first because it’s not a uniform,” said Jacobs. “Sometimes, uniforms tend to make people with mental health issues a little more scared and edgy than seeing somebody who’s not in a uniform.”

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