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Mental-health deputies, officer shortage affects Nueces County

Posted at 11:45 AM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 14:19:06-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Rose Garcia rolls her suitcase across the bumpy pavement along North Alameda Street. She’s just feet away from home, but except her home isn't like most people's.

It doesn't have a roof, or walls, or really even a floor. Her home is the streets.

Garcia has been homeless for about eight years, and a day after being punched by a fellow homeless person, she's decided to move a street over, just in front of Corpus Christi City Hall.

She lays down her suitcase and takes out her bed, a few blankets and a black tarp that will protect her against the rain and cold weather moving in. And no — no pillows. Unless you count the cold hard ground.

She suffers from mental-health issues such as depression, borderline personality disorder, suicidal thoughts and ADHD.

"As far as mental-health issues, the PTSD," Garcia says. "I actually came to the streets with that already, due to certain things that happened in my life.”

Just last month, the unthinkable happened to her.

“I was raped by a man that I didn’t even know," she says. "What better way, on their end, to traumatize me.”

The incident just compounded the stress and emotions she already struggles with daily, but she refuses to be victimized, even though she has been a victim.

“To stay in the situation of rape: Don’t, don’t, don’t let that become who you are,” she says with conviction.

According to Texas Health and Human Services, over 25,000 people in Texas identified as homeless in 2018. More than 16 percent of those people self-reported severe mental illness.

Nueces County Constable Pct. 2 deputies have all gone through crisis-intervention training to respond to calls from people such as Garcia, who have troubling thoughts of harming themselves. But they lack officers who specialize in dealing with mental-health cases.

“Sometimes they will say 'I’m not going to hurt nobody,' but you can tell by what they’ve already done and their demeanor that they need help,” said Nueces County Constable Pct. 2 Assistant Chief David Lindner.

Precinct 2 doesn’t have any mental-health officers, so on Wednesday, it petitioned the Nueces County Commissioners Court to have full-time designated mental-health officers. The commissioners court granted permission for four dedicated officers who will respond to calls from people with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Funding for the positions will come from the Nueces County Hospital District. Two open positions will be transferred from the sheriff's office to the constable's office, and the remaining two will be newly created positions.

“Each one of us knows someone that has been diagnosed with some kind of mental illness, and it touches everybody’s life," said Pct. 2 constable Jason McCahan. "And we just want to try and help out as much as we can.”

McCahan said he hopes to have more of his deputies trained on how to handle and recognize mental-health situations by the end of the year.

A lack of specific mental-health officers isn’t just a problem in Precinct 2. It’s also a problem at the Corpus Christi Police Department.

Shawn Barnes is their only full-time mental-health officer, and he said sometimes there are days when he is performing other duties, so his shift is left uncovered. Barnes said they get at least one mental-health call an hour, and said because he is the only officer, many calls aren't attended to.

CCPD has partnered with the Nueces Center for Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, and has one of their crisis-intervention team members ride with Barnes to assess people who are having mental-health issues.

“Our main goal is to help the person by diverting them from the hospital or the jail, if possible,” Barnes said.

As Garcia prepares for the night during severe winter weather, she reminisces back to a time when her homeless friend had to use the crisis-intervention team. Through tough times, it brought not just a smile to her face, but tears streaming down her face. She says she knows the program works.

“I want to cry, but not out of sadness, because I can see how the program can help to excel, how the program is an asset to not only our homeless community, but our city as well,” Garcia said.