Several years ago, I remember how police were routinely called to respond to disturbances in downtown San Antonio, Texas. I once witnessed an individual sitting at a picnic table shouting the Lord’s Prayer at the top of his lungs. Passersby called the police, not knowing what else to do or how to react to someone acting out in this way.
The officers who responded knew the man wasn’t violent, but they had to remove him for his own safety. They knew it was wrong, but they took the man to jail because they had no other choice.
I remember thinking to myself, “There has to be a better way.”
I’ve been working on addressing the issue of mental illness in Texas jails and prisons for more than 25 years. Currently, I am the president and chief executive officer of The Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio. We opened The Restoration Center (TRC) in 2008 with a simple mission: provide a one-stop shop to treat those in crisis so they could stay out of jails and emergency rooms. The Restoration Center is an integrated clinic where people can receive psychiatric care, substance use services, general health care, and transitional housing. We utilize motivational engagement; multiple admissions are never viewed as a failure. Patients are treated with dignity and respect, whether they’re here for the first time or the hundredth time.
I feel like I’ve always had a knack for finding the possible in what often looks impossible. My passion for treating people with mental illness is my inspiration for the nationally renowned programs I’ve created, including the Crisis Care Center, the Bexar County Jail Diversion Program and The Restoration Center. For me, collaboration is key. The model is simple—bring everybody who touches people with mental illness in the community together to develop solutions, and they’ll take pride in the outcomes.
Since its creation, The Restoration Center has diverted tens of thousands of Bexar County residents into treatment programs with more than 60,000 individual contacts, saving taxpayers more than $50 million dollars. Bexar County residents have been returned to their communities and families to live independent and productive lives. We like to think of The Center for Health Care Services as the place where hope and healing begin. The Restoration Center is making a difference in individuals’ lives. Individuals like the man who regularly screamed his prayers from a San Antonio picnic table.
Leon Evans serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors.