Homeless First Responders

By Jack Simon, Observer Staff Writer

The Santa Monica Fire Department this week launched a new emergency response unit which will address the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

The Community Response Unit (CRU) looks like a typical ambulance – staffed by two firefighters – but it has a distinct mission: provide an alternative response to 911 calls to better address the needs of vulnerable populations in Santa Monica, city officials said on Monday, announcing the new outreach.

"The CRU's 'one meaningful intervention at a time approach' will help improve outcomes for individuals experiencing homeless and will serve as an additional team on our streets to meet this crisis head on," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich. "The City Council wholeheartedly moved the Community Response Unit forward earlier this year as one new investment to meet our community priority of addressing homelessness."

The City Council funded the CRU in the 2021– 2023 budget as a priority project to address homelessness, city officials said.

Unlike a standard fire department ambulance unit which assesses, treats, and transports patients to hospital emergency rooms, the CRU has the latitude to spend more time on scene to help connect those in need with more appropriate resources, local fire officials said.

Additionally, this team will be able to transport people experiencing a behavior health crisis to a psychiatric urgent care center, rather than an emergency room, fire officials said. The CRU will work in collaboration with other city departments, regional agencies, and non-profits to help bridge the gap for housing and other support services.

Firefighters assigned to the CRU have received specialized training in mental health emergencies, crisis communications, de-escalation, and substance use disorders, said fire officials.

"These highly-trained Santa Monica Fire Department professionals look forward to serving the Santa Monica community and helping those in need with specialized interventions and access to supportive services," said Interim Fire Chief Wolfgang Chief Knabe. "This is something our team has been working toward for a long time and this launch is a big day for us as we evolve our service to uniquely meet the community's needs."

The CRU will be in service Monday through Thursday during peak hours.


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