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As mental health calls increase, Biddeford contracts for more community engagement workers
The Biddeford Police Department has one person in the position now, who has made 314 referrals in his first six months on the job. The City Council recently approved adding two more.
BIDDEFORD — Those who work or volunteer at Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center are seeing more people with mental health problems coming through the door, Rev. Shirley Bowen told he Biddeford City Council July 20.
“We’re seeing such extreme mental health issues,” she said. “Our folks are hurting badly and it’s at a level we haven’t seen for many years.”
The council that night was contemplating whether to add two additional community engagement specialists under contract with Spurwink, which it did, bringing the number to three. The vote was unanimous.
For the first half of 2021, the Biddeford Police Department’s Communications Center has dispatched public safety units 334 times — an average of 1.9 times a day, for 103 attempted or threatened suicide calls and 231 mental illness cases, according to a report prepared by Police Chief Roger Beaupre.
Since January, Community Engagement Specialist Jake Hammer, under contract from Spurwink to Biddeford Police Department, has handled 314 referrals resulting from the 334 calls, Beaupre said in a memo to the City Council.
As a community engagement specialist, Hammer’s tasks often entail finding care for those with mental health issues, and other sorts of help too, ranging from housing, to counseling, rent relief, heating oil, food resources, or “whatever the need is,” Hammer said in a March interview.