ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - St. Petersburg city councilors unanimously approved a contract on Thursday with Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services to deploy social workers on nonviolent, noncriminal 911 calls for service.
This will take the burden off police officers so they can focus on calls for service where public safety is more largely impacted.
"I think this allows us to get to a point where police even gain more stronger relationships within the community because they don’t want to show up and arrest someone who has a mental health issue, that’s not good for that individual, it’s not good for the family," said Dr. Sandra Braham, the president and CEO of Gulf Coast JFCS.
Social workers will respond to calls where a child is refusing to go to school, for example, or a scenario where an individual is at a high risk of hurting themself or others in their household. Clinicians will respond to calls related to substance abuse issues as well.
"It’s not just a matter of going out to a home and it being a one and done, it’s very much; we will connect the client, that child to the appropriate services and Gulf Coast has a myriad of services that we can offer ourselves," said Terri Balliet, the chief operating officer of Gulf Coast JFCS.
The organization is in the process of interviewing and training social workers. The pilot program is set to last until the Fall season. Gulf Coast JFCS will provide data to the city to show their work's effectiveness, with a hope to continue and expand the program in the future.