Making recovery accessible: County budget expands recovery coach program to community centers

Dane County will invest an additional $865,000 in its 2020 budget to enhance mental health and addiction-recovery services with intentions of making them more accessible in the community.

“It’s really a tragedy when someone dies or is seriously injured from something that didn’t need to happen,” said Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities of Madison and Dane County.

The nonprofit looks at top causes of injury in Dane County, working with about 350 area groups to address them.

“Over the last couple years, we’ve seen suicide and drug overdoses take the lead in the toll it’s taking on community members,” Wittke said. “It needs to be an all hands on deck approach.”

When it comes to mental illness and addiction, Wittke knows much of the work must be done outside the office.

“The most effective services and initiatives come from the ground up,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said, adding that addiction and mental health are some of the most pressing challenges in the community.

“That’s an illness as much as heart disease and cancer,” he said.

Of the additional $865,000 for mental health and addiction services, $80,000 will go toward expanding Safe Communities’ recovery coach program.

The recovery coaches are people who have recovered from addiction themselves and are trained to help people currently struggling.

“It’s a really powerful intervention because the know — they’ve woken up in the emergency room after an overdose,” Wittke said.

Those recovery coaches connect with people in places such as hospitals after an overdose. Soon, that effort will expand to community centers including the Outreach LGBT Community Center, the Urban League and groups that work with African-American, Latino and Hmong populations.

“We will be out in the community more,” Wittke said.

Steve Starkey, executive director of the Outreach LGBT Community Center, said with the program expansion, a recovery coach will be on hand 10 hours a week.

“LGBTQ people are three times more likely (than the general population) to struggle with addiction,” Starkey said. “This is kind of exciting for us. It gives us more services to offer people who are struggling with addiction.”

It connects with people where they’re at to get them where they’d like to go

“It’s a safe space,” Starkey said.

“It’s a message of hope,” Wittke said.

The budget will also put $500,000 toward creating the “C.J. Tubbs Fund for Hope, Healing and Recovery,” a new program that will award grants to community-based groups that can best provide direct assistance to those suffering severe mental illness and addiction.

In addition, $200,000 will go toward mental health series for older populations.

The budget will also create a “End Deaths by Despair Coalition” which will bring community partners together to develop a plan to stop suicide and other preventable deaths.

Parisi will be announcing his full budget proposal Tuesday.

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