A Compassionate Partnership: Hands Across Montecito, Sheriff’s Office are Quite the Tandem

By Sharon Byrne   |   April 1, 2021

Last Friday, Jane Olson, one of the founding members of our Hands Across Montecito homeless outreach project, happened to be out walking near Hammond’s Meadow and encountered a very thin woman screaming at the top of her lungs and disrobing. 

We had met this woman before, during the homeless point-in-time count at East Beach in January 2020. She also was a problem for the sheriffs last summer at Butterfly Beach.

Jane knew exactly what to do – she immediately called the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and asked for a co-response unit, where a mental health worker arrives with law enforcement. 

Jane reported that four responding deputies did a masterful job handling the woman, including Deputy James McKarrell. He is trained for crisis intervention and was the first officer assigned to the co-response unit. He calmed her down and got her to the ambulance gurney very skillfully.

Andrea Hein, another co-founding member of the Hands Across Montecito project, was also nearby when this incident occurred, and confirmed the woman was indeed in deep distress. She wasn’t aware Jane had called for the response but was also impressed with what she saw – the sheriffs were there in force, but very calm, with a mental health worker in hand. 

The sheriffs have supported Hands Across Montecito from inception, and they’ve been dutiful partners, from organizing beach-camp cleanouts, taking us to campsites via dune buggy, and walking the railroad tracks with us. 

Lt. Butch Arnoldi worked to remove a camper – a lifelong Montecito resident, now displaced – from Hammond’s Meadow, showcasing how the linking of hands across Montecito is helping those unsheltered in our community.

I followed up with Dr. Cherylynn Lee, the head of the Behavioral Science Unit at the sheriff’s office that manages the co-response team, and she assured me that they will work to connect the woman with services. We also sent a thank you to Sheriff Bill Brown, and he replied: 

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the men and women of the agency I am privileged to lead, and of our community’s response to the vexing problem of untreated and under-treated mentally ill people in our society. Thank you and Jane Olson for being such great partners as we continue to work to make Santa Barbara County a better, more understanding and more compassionate place.”

Calling for help: If you need the co-response unit after encountering a mental health crisis, call sheriff’s dispatch at 805-692-5743. Explain it is a mental health crisis, and request that they send a mental health professional with the responding deputies.


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