by Lauryn Bray

King County’s Crisis Care Levy, a property levy that will fund the development of several mental and behavioral health care facilities across the Seattle region, passed last month with a 56.7% vote. The levy, which will raise up to $1.25 billion over a nine-year period, garnered support early on with 54% of King County voters approving the levy within the first day of voting.

The money will fund the construction of five 24/7 walk-in crisis care centers, with at least one facility dedicated to providing services for youth only. Prior to the passage of this levy, there was no walk-in behavioral urgent health care clinic in King County.

“This is probably the biggest issue that we face at the local level that impacts people’s lives in the most harmful ways. This issue of mental health crises, [and] of skyrocketing overdoses and substance use disorders, really shows up in people’s daily lives in a way that they feel every single day,” explains Councilmember Girmay Zahilay in an interview with the Emerald. “Everybody sees the people who are on the streets having psychiatric breakdowns. People see their loved ones overdosing. People see the upticks in gun violence related to mental health issues, and they see people dying because of untreated behavioral health issues.”

The King County Council is in the process of preparing for the implementation of a seven-year plan outlining the construction and development of five regional crisis care centers. Council members like Zahilay will ask the communities surrounding the planned locations for their input as King County enters the early stages of development.

“By December of 2023, the executive branch will transmit to the King County Council the executive’s implementation plan, which will outline timelines and the nine-year strategy requirements, lighting, process, cost structures, measurements and evaluations, initiative goals — all those things in great detail,” said Zahilay. This process will begin after the County collects community feedback.

The Crisis Care Centers Levy will cost King County property owners 14.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. KING 5 reports that based on the median home value in King County, which is $694,000, the tax would come to $121 a year.

Once the implementation plan is adopted in 2024, King County says they “will develop partnerships with communities and providers across the region to fund [the] citing and creation of crisis care centers, mental health residential capacity, and workforce recruitment and retention.”

Tax collection will begin in 2024 so that King County can receive the revenue that they need. By the end of 2025, they plan to receive proposals for two crisis care centers, and if the timeline follows as planned, proposals for the next three centers will be accepted in 2026, 2027, and 2028.

The County plans for the first center to open in 2026, with the remaining four facilities opening each year until 2030. Each will provide a mix of inpatient and outpatient services, and each 46-bed crisis center would provide services for around 2.3 million people in the county, according to the King County Department of Community and Health Services.

“The crisis care centers will provide immediate stabilizing care within this portion of the building that’s called the 23-hour waiting room. So for 23 hours, you’ll get immediate stabilizing care, then there are several other rooms where you can stay up to 14 days to continue getting stabilizing care,” explained Zahilay.

In addition to funding the five crisis care centers, Zahilay says the money will also be used to bring up the number of long-term residential health beds.

“[The funding] will bring us back to 355 beds — these are long-term residential health beds where people can go and get long-term care, unlike the crisis care centers, where you can only stay up to 14 days. These are places where you can stay several months if you need to,” he said. “[It will be] two different types of care, but both settings provide support for both mental illness and substance use disorders.”

Zahilay said his top priority is also to ensure that crisis care centers will be able to provide culturally competent care.

“I’ve been organizing different work groups, especially with our African American communities and our Native communities who suffer disproportionately from homelessness and from behavioral health issues in King County,” said Zahilay. “It’s important [that we bring] together people who provide behavioral health care for specific communities that are disproportionately impacted, and let them shape a lot of the strategy around how to provide care in these centers.”

Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.

📸 Featured Image: King County Executive Dow Constantine touring DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center. This center is helping inform future crisis centers. It is currently the only behavioral health crisis facility in operation for the entire county. The center requires a referral from a first responder, hospital, designated crisis responder, or mobile response team due to its limited capacity. (Photo: Josh Lewis)

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