The COVID-19 quarantine has disrupted normal routines for everyone, changing the nature of services that law enforcement and mental health providers around the Gallatin Valley are scrambling to provide.
Patrol officers are dealing with fewer routine traffic stops and drunk drivers under the quarantine, but the incidence of criminal mischief, vandalism and domestic disputes has risen, according Belgrade Police Chief E.J. Clark.
“We see the same thing around the holidays when a lot is being done socially done at home,” Clark said. “We anticipated this was going to happen.”
With bars closed, it stands to reason that fewer people are driving while inebriated, but that usually means they are drinking at home - a practice that can add to domestic tension, Clark said.
Mental health agencies around the valley are noticing the same things, including Maya Howell, a licensed clinical social worker with Community Health Partners.
“It’s not uncommon that when people are in close quarters, things become magnified,” she said, adding that the particular stressors related to the COVID-19 situation make the normal phenomenon much worse.
“There is global uncertainty and confusion, with mounting job losses and kids not being at school,” she said. “Boredom is also a big issue – people get themselves into mischief when they’re bored.”
The Help Center, which operates a 24-hour crisis line and fields 211 calls for non-emergency assistance, has seen a 20 percent increase in calls over this time last year, according to Mandy St. Aubin, development and communications coordinator.
Between March 8 and April 4, the Help Center took 222 calls related to COVID-19, from people either directly impacted and needing resources, or those in crisis, feeling suicidal, or experiencing other types of emotional distress, she added.
The Gallatin Mental Health Center, which operates the Hope House in Bozeman, is “moving toward capacity,” according to regional director Michael Foust. More concerning is the uptick in services to people who are a threat to themselves and others and require involuntary services.
“We’ve been swamped there, with three times the numbers we normally see,” he said.
In an effort to address the anticipated need for more mental health services, Foust said his agency is working with Bozeman Health to start offering mental health urgent care “so we can meet people’s needs more rapidly and immediately.”
“It’s a better way to treat people to prevent emergencies,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to wait three weeks when they have immediate needs.”
While the Mental Health Center is providing services remotely through video or audio forums, people in need who are having difficulty with the technology options are encouraged to call the center at (406) 556-6500 for assistance. And though the Center urges people to stay at home in accordance with the governor’s order, those who are unable to access remote services may go to the Hope House at 701 Farmhouse Lane, where staff will work to provide what they need while adhering to CDC guidelines related to the quarantine.
Howell of Community Health Partners said CHP is offering therapy services in Belgrade, Bozeman, Livingston and West Yellowstone, regardless of patients’ ability to pay. Many health insurers are now covering telephone sessions, and CHP will work with uninsured patients to help them find coverage or access services on a sliding scale. For help getting set up, call Genevieve at (406) 946-7003.
Agencies that provide other types of assistance are continuing to operate, with modifications. Christel Chvilicek, director of Family Promise of Gallatin Valley which helps low-income families find permanent housing, said the agency still is providing 90 days of shelter for qualifying families with at least one child under age 18, but in a different way than usual
Rather than offering shelter in area churches in weekly rotations, the agency has found static sites for families to stay in accordance quarantine regulations. Additional sites have been identified should the need arise before the quarantine is lifted.
“We want to be able to help as many people as we can,” Chvilicek said, noting that families without homes are dealing with the added burden of trying to educate their children while schools are closed.
“I think our services are really important,” she said.
Families in need of housing may call the Family Promise office at (406) 582-7388, where messages will be checked twice daily.