Medford-based harm reduction group on track to receive $1.5 million OHA grant

By Jane Vaughan (Jefferson Public Radio)
Sept. 7, 2023 5:22 p.m.

Stabbin’ Wagon provides harm reduction supplies for safer drug consumption and organizes public HIV testing events. Next, they plan to open a community-based mental health center.

The Medford-based nonprofit plans to use an approximately $1.5 million grant from the Oregon Health Authority to create a peer-run, low-barrier center in Jackson County for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or trauma.

The center, which will be called Mountain Beaver House, will house four to six individuals as a short-term, non-clinical alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. They will be able to stay at the respite center for up to two weeks free of charge. Participation in the center will be non-coercive, and two full-time outreach coordinators will focus on community outreach.

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“These team members will help educate the public about peer respites and also coordinate with local community groups and services providers. Through our existing harm reduction and peer support work, we often encounter individuals in crisis and know that the need for a local peer respite is very urgent,” Stabbin’ Wagon said in a statement.

Alicia LeDuc Montgomery, the nonprofit’s attorney, said their approach to harm reduction is unique because it is community-oriented rather than top-down.

“There’s peer-support specialists that work in the respite center. They are folks who have been trained in crisis response but also have experienced crisis themselves or have navigated the mental health system. And so there’s this peer to peer component of relatability, of compassion, that I think makes this particular respite program unique compared to what other offerings are in Southern Oregon currently,” she said.

It’s unclear where exactly in Jackson County the center will be located or when it will open.

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Stabbin’ Wagon said they have completed the contract and sent it to OHA. The state health authority has not yet signed it.

“OHA is working on conditions of the contract. I’m afraid I don’t know the timeline for a possible resolution,” OHA Behavioral Health Services strategic communications officer Timothy Heider said in an email.

“We have signed our end of the contract and are ready to begin work as soon as we receive funding. Once funded, we have budgeted for six months for set up time before we open to the public,” Stabbin’ Wagon said in a statement.

The nonprofit has at times clashed with law enforcement, including recent arrests of some of its employees.

LeDuc Montgomery said the nonprofit’s community-oriented approach, like providing harm reduction kits for safer drug consumption, can create tension with local law enforcement.

“There are concerns whenever you’re speaking about law enforcement in Jackson County and also the perspective of community-oriented peer support for folks who have either mental health crises or addiction issues that historically Jackson County law enforcement has dealt with through enforcement and potential jailing or citations. So I think inherently there’s potential for some tensions there,” she said.

Despite these incidents, she said Stabbin’ Wagon is ready to operate the center and eager to get started.

The grant would fund the center for two years. Beyond that, the nonprofit could utilize other funding sources to continue to operate the center.

“Peer respites are incredibly cost effective when compared to the cost of psychiatric hospitalization. Oregon’s peer respite funding is currently designated by state legislation, and we hope that the state will continue to prioritize funding this crucial and innovative resource for our communities,” Stabbin’ Wagon said in a statement.

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