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City’s new crisis outreach team aims to take strain off hospitals, first responders

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 4:12 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 7, 2021 at 4:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s been a longtime concern: Homeless people calling 911 for problems that aren’t emergencies.

Officials say up to 25% of 911 calls in Downtown Honolulu are from individuals living on the street and in need of food or minor medical care.

Ambulances are required to take them to the hospital. A few hours later, they’re back on the street.

“We want to interrupt that. We want to provide more appropriate care,” said Jim Ireland, the director of Honolulu’s Emergency Services Department.

That care is called CORE or Honolulu’s Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement Program ― and it’s set to launch later this month.

“We’re going to start between downtown and Waikiki. But ultimately this is going to expand island-wide.”

Refurbished ambulances will be staffed with a pair of emergency medical technicians and a community health worker who has been specially trained to work with the homeless.

It will run up to 12 hours a day.

Patients who need medical treatment but don’t need the emergency room will be taken to clinics like the Punawai Rest Stop for care.

One of the biggest differences between traditional EMS and the CORE program is that when a person is done receiving medical treatment a team will be there to pick them up and take them to a shelter.

“When a person is in crisis they may be at an ‘aha’ moment. Or they’re at a moment where you can build trust with them,” said Anton Crucky, head of the city’s Office of Housing.

He said that trust is key in convincing people to accept help.

“And these can be medical services. Mental health services. Recovery stabilization services,” he said.

Crews will be dressed in a red shirt and jeans.

“We wanted a casual appearance that’s going to make people feel comfortable,” said Ireland.

Officials say the program isn’t intended to replace police or EMS.

Ireland said, “We’re going to work side-by-side with them.”

He added the goal is to substantially cut medical costs and leave hospitals and first responders to deal with real emergencies.

The city says it’s putting $5 million towards the program in its first year. The money is coming from a grant and federal funds.

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