Berkeley's Specialized Care Unit offers non-police help for mental health and substance use crises, promoting outreach and dialogue. Call (510) 948-0075.
People in Berkeley suffering a mental health or substance use crisis – or those seeking to help them – now have another option to get in-person professional support besides calling 911 and directly involving law enforcement.
With one phone call, trained staff will conduct an initial intake, assess whether there are immediate medical or safety concerns, and evaluate the crisis.
If there are no emergency medical concerns or potentially lethal weapons, the call taker will send the Specialized Care Unit – a team comprised of a peer specialist, a mental health clinician, and an emergency medical technician.
This team will listen, learn, and respond to those in crisis, offering transportation, connections to services, or safety planning as needed.
Staffed by the mental health-focused nonprofit Bonita House, this unit will operate seven days a week, from 6:00 am to 4:00 pm. The goal is to eventually build up this service to be available at any time, day or night. It will serve all ages and respond to public and private locations.
If you or someone you want to help needs in-person support, call during those hours or leave a voicemail:
Specialized Care Unit
6:00 am - 4:00 pm, 7 days a week
Team will try to guide person to stable path
Someone might seek help from the Specialized Care Unit for a variety of reasons:
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Substance use concerns
- Unable to calm down (anxiety)
- Dramatic mood changes
After reaching the client, the team will first try to de-escalate the crisis and determine whether the person needs immediate medical help that might require paramedic support, such as evidence of a heart attack, stroke, or broken arm.
They will then continue to assess and stabilize the crisis, understand what the client says they need, develop a post-crisis plan, and assist with next steps.
If the person in need is threatening self-harm or suicide, the team will put together a safety plan, identify supports, and guide the person to a path of stability. If the situation involves imminent harm, local paramedics may become involved.
Someone needing to come down out of a drug-induced state might be transported to a nearby sobering center. Others might need transport to a housing navigation center or other community service provider.
The ultimate goal is to guide and transport people to post-crisis resources in a caring and compassionate way.
If the person declines their support, the team will end the service. However, if staff observes behavior that puts the person in danger – such as walking into traffic or continually falling – they will call 911.
People in crisis can also choose to call 911 during or after the care unit’s operational hours if they want to directly request police or paramedic support.
Extensive community processes helped develop this model
The Specialized Care Unit emerged from a Berkeley City Council-initiated process to “re-imagine” public safety in the City of Berkeley.
In creating this unit, one of the goals was to give people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis another option besides directly involving law enforcement through a 911 call.
To oversee and advise on the creation of this unit, the Health, Housing, and Community Services Department formed a Steering Committee consisting of diverse community members and city staff, including Berkeley Fire. Read committee reports in the links section below.
To learn more and stay up to date about the Specialized Care Unit, sign up for our outreach email list.
Team will also do active outreach
When not responding to calls, the team will also be doing active outreach. They might visit high-traffic areas. They’ll distribute flyers about this new service to a broad range of community partners.
It will take time to spread the word. You can help, too. You can print, email, or hand out flyers to those you know.
If you, or someone you want to help, is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis – and is seeking a non-law enforcement response – call (510) 948-0075.