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Treatment Facilities, Suicide Hotline Funding Debated at Human Services Hearing

The Fairfax County Human Services Council concluded a series of public hearings Monday on budget issues.

Fairfax County resident Tom Walker started using drugs and alcohol when he was 9 years old. According to him, he wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for help he received through the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB).

Walker graduated from the now-defunct Sunrise treatment program in 1997 and has successfully pursued a career in mental health. And on Monday night, Walker spoke before the Fairfax County Human Services Council regarding the CSB’s budget woes.

The CSB, an agency that organizes and provides critical services to people with mental and physical disabilities and substance abuse issues, faces an $8 million gap in its $150 million budget for 2012 and an additional $9.5 million in 2013. But a plan to manage these holes released in early May proposes service cuts that could affect families in need across the county.

Walker urged the council to advise against the proposed closing of New Horizons, an intensive treatment program for people with mental health and co-occurring substance abuse issues; and Sojourn House, a facility similar to New Horizons for girls ages 12-17.

Other speakers pointed out that Sojourn House is the last remaining treatment option for girls. “If New Horizons and Sojourn House are closed, where will these individuals go?” Walker asked.

More than 30 residents spoke before the council and a room packed to capacity at the Fairfax County Government Center. Many attendees wore T-shirts that read “I’m alive,” in support of funding for CrisisLink, Fairfax County’s crisis and suicide prevention hotline.

“‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ That’s the question CrisisLink volunteer counselors ask every caller to CrisisLink,” said Julia Stephens, CrisisLink’s executive director. “In the last 11 months, 275 Fairfax County residents replied, ‘yes.’”

But volunteers on the hotline, who require up to 60 hours of training and sometimes stay on a call for more than an hour, were able to talk those people down, Stephens said. Stephens added that suicide attempts could cost thousands in emergency medical services and ongoing treatments.

“CrisisLink has prevented 275 suicide attempts in Fairfax County in the last 11 months,” she said. “Not only do we save money, but CrisisLink saves lives.”

More parents also appeared before the council to advocate

Jocelyn Carter’s son Casimir has cutis marmorata telangiectatica congenita (CMTC), a rare congenital disorder, and is about to graduate from the county’s S. John Davis Career Center. But she’s worried there might not be anywhere for him to go if employment services get cut.

“We need money to let our children go to work so that they can be productive members [of society],” she said. “They want to go to work. They want to get jobs.”

The Monday hearing was the third and final in a series held by the Human Services Council. The council will now spend the next two weeks going through citizen testimony and more than 400 online survey responses before it presents its findings and recommendations to the county’s Board of Supervisors.

The Human Services Council will hold its regularly scheduled meeting next Monday at the Fairfax County Government Center in Conference Rooms 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Click here for the full meeting schedule. 

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