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Here is a simplified table that outlines how 911 currently works. When someone calls 911, the dispatcher (emergency communications) collects information about their emergency and dispatches the appropriate response teams. At present in Cambridge, the options are police, fire, and EMS. Using a loose framework offered by Monica Luke from the Living Assistance Fund, here is what each component of 911 does.

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The federal government has created 988, a three-digit number that is meant to operate like 911, but for behavioral health emergencies. The government is in the process of creating the infrastructure for it now. While the call centers have launched, an expansion of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the rest of the infrastructure is still under development. Using the same framework, here is a table that explains how 988 is meant to operate.

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A community process helped design our community safety model, Cambridge HEART. Using Monica Luke’s framework, here is how HEART is meant to operate. Keep in mind that the federal government encourages federal grantees to work with community organizations that center the most impacted communities, HEART definitely meets the federal government’s definition of an organization that centers and serves the most marginalized.

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The police shoot and kill an average 1,000 people experiencing a mental health related crisis annually. The federal government has created 988 to remove behavioral emergencies from under the purview of the police. In 2018, videos surfaced of police punching a young Black man in Harvard Square while he was clearly experiencing a crisis. While there are organizations that serve communities (Cambridge Health Alliance, BEST / CREST, Cambridge and Somerville Recovery Learning Center, NAMI, and more); there is a shortage of trained behavioral crisis response programs in Cambridge. Cambridge HEART is training marginalized community members and hiring them to serve as community responders. Cambridge HEART is someone to respond.

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