Amid a slew of safety grants totaling over $1 billion announced within the past week, the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has awarded funds totaling $34 million to help communities address crises involving homelessness, mental health, substance use disorders and other public health and public safety emergencies. 

The grants, made by OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ), will support partnerships between justice system officials, health and mental health professionals and community providers designed to reduce arrests, divert individuals from the justice system and deliver the appropriate treatment and other support services to those in need.

“We simply cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the challenges presented by untreated mental illness, co-occurring substance use, homelessness and poverty,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “These resources awarded today reaffirm our commitment to support diversion programs and expand community partnerships so that people are connected to the help they need and are kept out of the criminal justice system whenever possible.”

Law enforcement officers are typically first on the scene of a community emergency — whether the crisis is a drug overdose or an episode of psychiatric distress — but they often have neither the training nor the tools to respond adequately. Police departments report an increase in service calls involving people with mental health and substance use disorders, yet the presence of an armed officer often heightens stress and can exacerbate tensions, leading to poor outcomes. Many cities have begun to institute community responder models in which treatment providers and other health professionals are dispatched separately or alongside law enforcement.

The grants were distributed to national organizations, training programs and research projects investigating crisis response and violence prevention, including:

  • Nearly $18.3 million in funds to the Connect and Protect: Law Enforcement Behavioral Health Response Program, which supports a law enforcement-behavioral health cross-system collaboration to improve public safety for individuals with mental health or co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders who come in contact with the justice system.
  • $11.9 million under the BJA's Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, which supports public safety efforts through partnerships with social service and other organizations to enhance responses to individuals with mental health or co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
  • $2.3 million under the Collaborative Crisis Response Training Program, which supports training to prepare law enforcement and correctional officers to appropriately interact with people who have behavioral health conditions or disabilities.
  • Almost $1.5 million under NIJ's Research and Evaluation on the Police Response to Homelessness, which supports research and evaluation projects to conduct exploratory research and secondary/open data analysis to assess the range of practices, strategies and tactics used by police to respond to homelessness.