EUGENE, Ore. – White Bird Clinic’s nationally-recognized CAHOOTS program is known for supporting those in crisis, but the organization now says it’s the one that needs help. CAHOOTS is going public with a plea to the City of Eugene for more funding.
Program coordinator Ebony Morgan said the program’s contract with Eugene Police has saved law enforcement money, but CAHOOTS itself continues to lose around $500,000 each year. The ongoing budget woes have forced the program to cut back on some service hours because they can’t find employees who will fill shifts.
CAHOOTS team members start at $18 per hour with no path to a pay increase. Morgan said many people desire a career in the mental health field, but find it difficult to make a living.
“We're also losing the people…that have been doing this work for a while because they're going on to careers that are going to be more livable for them,” Morgan said. “They have to build for a future and they're not able to do that with us.”
A potential solution to the funding gap could be Eugene’s Community Safety Payroll Tax. It’s expected to generate $23.6 million in additional revenue for the city each year. CAHOOTS is requesting at least a 5% slice of the payroll tax pie.
“In order for us to be able to expand, we have to be able to survive. What it's going to mean to the community is that we're going to continue to have to limit the amount of service we're able to provide,” Morgan said.
City spokesperson Laura Hammond said the City of Eugene appreciates the long-standing partnership it has with CAHOOTS and its service to the community.
"They have been important partners for over 30 years," Hammond said. "The city council has been reviewing input and recommendations from the community as they continue their discussions about community safety funding. We appreciate hearing from CAHOOTS and will look forward to reviewing their proposal as the council continues their conversation on this topic."
Collection on the payroll tax began in January. Currently, the spending proposal is split up with 65% for police services, 10% for fire and emergency medical services, 15% for municipal court and prosecution services, 7% for homeless services and 3% for prevention services. But Morgan said the current proposal includes no funding for CAHOOTS. By publicly asking the city for money, the organization is branching into new territory.
“Until now, the CAHOOTS program hasn't done a lot of advocacy for ourselves. We haven't been acknowledging where our funding is leaving us, and it's important to me that we do that,” Morgan said.
In dollar amounts, CAHOOTS is requesting about $1.2 million annually, which Morgan said would stabilize the program and allow it to look at expansion of services.