© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washtenaw United: Care-Based Safety serves as a safer alternative to solving mental health crises

Care-Based Safety co-director of culture and operations Liz Kennedy.
Care-Based Safety
Care-Based Safety co-director of culture and operations Liz Kennedy.


Liz is an artist and community organizer. Liz combines years of nonprofit leadership experience, from the NAACP to United Way, with their lived experiences as a survivor, healer, and Detroit-rooted organizer to advance community-based networks of care, safety, and justice where all can thrive. Embracing the belief that “care is the antidote to violence” (Saidiya Hartman), they organize with the Detroit-based Healing By Choice! collective and are deeply committed to strengthening networks of community care and safety throughout Southeast Michigan and beyond.


Care-Based Safety

Care-Based Safety on Facebook

Care-Based Safety on Instagram


Peer-Reviewed Articles

  • A 2023 study suggests that the prevalence of police killings in behavioral health crises demonstrates a need for unarmed mobile crisis response and provides an analysis of programs like STAR and CAHOOTS that shows a low need for law enforcement backup. 
    • Citation: Ramasamy, R. S., Thompson, A., & Simmons, S. (2023). Responding to acute mental health crises in Black youth: is it safe to call 911?. Community mental health journal, 59(1), 1-8. 
  • A 2022 study of the Denver Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) pilot program found that zero calls "required a call to police for assistance or for a response to a criminal offense." 
    • STAR also reduced crime in the area the program covers, reducing the need for law enforcement response. 
    • Citation: Dee, T. S., & Pyne, J. (2022). A community response approach to mental health and substance abuse crises reduced crime. Science Advances, 8(23), eabm2106. 
  • A 2023 study found that the Boston Emergency Services Team mobile crisis response (BEST MCI) demonstrably reduced the usage of hospital emergency departments. 
    • Citation: Oblath, R., Herrera, C. N., Were, L. P., Syeda, H. S., Duncan, A., Ferguson, T., ... & Henderson, D. C. (2023). Long-term trends in psychiatric emergency services delivered by the Boston Emergency Services Team. Community mental health journal, 59(2), 370-380. 
  • A 2024 study of utilization and reutilization of crisis response services within thirty days found that most episodes did not result in reutilization, and when reutilization did happen, it allowed for diversion from emergency departments and inpatient care, allowing for lower strain on “restrictive and costly levels of care.” 
    • Citation: Tomovic, M., Balfour, M. E., Cho, T., Prathap, N., Harootunian, G., Mehreen, R., ... & Goldman, M. L. (2024). Patient Flow and Reutilization of Crisis Services Within 30 Days in a Comprehensive Crisis System. Psychiatric Services, appi-ps. 
  • A 2017 study found that community-based mobile response created linkages to community-based services for further support. 
  • Kim, S., & Kim, H. (2017). Determinants of the use of community‐based mental health services after mobile crisis team services: an empirical approach using the Cox proportional hazard model. Journal of community psychology, 45(7), 877-887. 
  • A 2001 study found that community-based mobile crisis response decreased hospitalizations. 
    • Citation: Guo, S., Biegel, D. E., Johnsen, J. A., & Dyches, H. (2001). Assessing the impact of community-based mobile crisis services on preventing hospitalization. Psychiatric Services, 52(2), 223-228. 


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And I'd like to welcome you to our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. I'm David Fair, and this is Washtenaw United. Mental health priorities are being explored in a number of ways in our lives and throughout the community. Often, it requires intervention, and, sometimes, those interventions are led by law enforcement. There is growing sentiment that law enforcement is not best equipped to deal with these kinds of personal crises. Our guest today works with an organization that has made it a mission to build a culture of "care-based safety" for all. As such, the organization is named Care-Based Safety. It's just getting its footing in Washtenaw County. Liz Kennedy is co-director of Care-Based Safety. And thank you so much for bringing your perspective to us today!

Liz Kennedy: Hi, David! Thanks so much for having me!

David Fair: Well, as I mentioned, Liz, Care-Based Safety is really just getting off the ground in Washtenaw County. But this is not a new organization. Where did this start?

Liz Kennedy: Yes. So, we are a diverse group of community leaders and organizers and neighbors and parents who live and work and play in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor and the wider Washtenaw County community. And we really came together to ask the question, "How can we prevent and respond to crises that affect Black and Brown lives, people living with mental illness and disabilities, people who use substances, queer and trans communities, and low-income folks in Washtenaw County, all of whom are vulnerable to criminalize criminalization and police violence?" So, after the 2014 death of Aura Rosser, who was a Black woman who was killed by Ann Arbor police in a mental health crisis, we really understood that a non-police crisis response program in our community couldn't wait.

David Fair: And so, it's been some time coming. There's been a lot of organization, a lot of planning and, really, development of a mission. Are you staffed and ready to launch pilot programs operationally?

Liz Kennedy: We are almost there, David. We are getting so close. We are very excited to share that we are beginning our proposed response pilot this summer, which will include a crisis phone number that's independent from 911, a dispatch system and two-person response teams. So, in preparation, our incredible CBS responders have been in training all winter long and through the spring. Our incredible community care workers just wrapped up a prevent harm in crisis series, and they'll be offered free to community throughout Ypsilanti. And, yeah, we've been just learning and fundraising and training and getting out into the community and doing engagement work. And we are very excited to bring our response pilot to downtown Ypsilanti later the summer.

David Fair: In 2017, Liz, voters in Washtenaw County passed a public safety and mental health millage with the idea of better handling crisis situations and providing interventional and longer-term help in addressing mental health and substance disorder issues. There is certainly a lot of community conversation right now on how that money is being utilized as the county prepares to ask voters to renew the millage. Now, is yours a program that might further the mission goals of that tax levy with investment?

Liz Kennedy: We certainly hope so. We are definitely grateful that Washtenaw County is a place that is investing in mental health resources and is doing things to try and really mitigate the housing crisis that we're seeing, the overdose crisis that we're seeing, and the millage is actively funding many of our partners that are doing the work every single day, providing folks with the most need in our community the resources that they need to thrive. So, as the millage currently stands, however, our perspective regarding safety is that policing does not work for everyone as a mental health resource. And that for a segment of our community that is marginalized that does have experience being overpoliced or being criminalized, often, these are Black folks, often these are people who are already living with mental illness, living with substance abuse disorders, police isn't always the right option. And so, a lot of our work is just expanding folks' knowledge and really imagination to think, "Okay, if policing doesn't work for everyone, then what can we imagine beyond that? How could we actually imagine peer responders showing up to a mental health crisis? What if we had folks who weren't responding with police? What if we had folks who weren't bringing coercive care or who weren't going to call someone and have you forcibly put in a psychiatric facility?" You know, policing and the mental health support that they provide--it does work for some folks. We're not here to take that away from anyone. We view our work as adding another tool to the toolbox for mental health and crisis response resources in Washtenaw County. And we have to be real about the fact that, for many of our of our community members who are at the most highest risk of mental illness or substance use disorders, oftentimes, these are Black and Brown folks, these are low income folks with whom police encounters are really just going to escalate to criminalization, to violence, or worse. So, we really want to advocate that millage funding also puts resources towards non-police alternatives, like Care-Based Safety, and really does the work to acknowledge that while police and law enforcement-led mental health care services do work for some of our folks who need the resources, it just doesn't work for everyone. And we need to be able to also invest and advocate that non-police mental health resources alternatives are also getting resources.

David Fair: This is Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU. And we're talking with Liz Kennedy from Care-Based Safety today. Whether it's dealing with an unhoused person with mental health issues or a drunk and disorderly person or someone with a substance disorder or a case of domestic violence, these can be exceedingly tense and often dangerous situations. So, if you were looking to have non-law enforcement interventions, how do you ensure the safety of those working toward that end?

Liz Kennedy: That's a great question, David, and I'm glad that we get to address this, because this is one of the most common misconceptions about community-led, non-police crisis response, which is that, "Oh, no, it must be dangerous!" or "Your folks may not be trained enough to handle the complexity of the calls and crisis situations that we're going to be seeing in the field." So, I want to uplift a 2022 study that looked at the Denver Support Team Assistance Response program in Colorado, the program acronym of STAR. And they found that zero calls required a call to police for assistance or for a response or criminal offense. So, in their years and years and years of really piloting this incredible work, the amount of actual police backup that is required is extremely low. In Colorado, it was nonexistent. But in many of our peer programs across the country, for example, CAHOOTS, we're really seeing extremely low numbers and rates of community-led crisis responders having to call for police backup. We're also seeing that these programs are actually extremely effective. A 2023 study found that the Boston Emergency Services team--mobile crisis response--really reduced the usage of hospital emergency departments. We're seeing reduced 911 calls. We're seeing reduced recidivism. We're seeing reduced overdoses in community. And we are really proud of the work that our national peers are doing across the country to really move public safety and public health forward. I mean, really, it's time to take non-police alternative seriously. And I think the data is really suggestive that the prevalence of police killings and behavioral health crises really clearly illustrate the need for unarmed mobile crisis response. And I just would like to finish all this data. I'd like to add that, as of 2020, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,--SAMHSA--recommend that mobile crisis response without law enforcement accompaniment is actually the best practice for behavioral health crisis care. So, our work is rooted in the data. It's rooted in the evidence that public health scholars and researchers have really been devoting so much research to it for years. So, we are a program that is very much rooted in evidence-based practices for behavioral health in the public health field.

David Fair: Our conversation with Care-Based Safety's Liz Kennedy continues on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. You know, Liz, it's been my experience in talking about these issues in the community that most who choose this line of work have some sort of life experience with it. And I hear the passion in your voice for the work through this conversation. Is your career choice related to something more personal?

Liz Kennedy: Absolutely, absolutely! I come to this work as a survivor of domestic violence and interpersonal violence. And it's very important for me to be transparent about how my own experience led me here. Because I just think it really reflects the values of Care-Based Safety. We are all survivors of violence. We are all folks who have experienced mental health illness. We have folks on our team who are currently in recovery and live with substance abuse disorder. We have folks who are Black and who are queer and trans. We have folks who live with different disabilities. And so, having a team full of diverse perspectives who have actually experienced the crisis that we're responding to and really important for our model, we just really believe that peer responders in the data really back this up. Just that peer responders can just be so effective in really providing non-judgmental, compassionate and trauma-informed care. And so, in my own experience as a survivor, I did call the police. And I did try and go through traditional law enforcement avenues to get justice, to get healing, to get the resources that I needed to get out and to be safe. And I had a terrible experience, unfortunately, as many survivors of interpersonal partner violence and domestic violence do. And it really led me to realize, "Okay, I need care resources that the traditional public safety methods and institutions are just not going to give me." But who did give it to me were other survivors. I came into community with folks who had experiences like mine, and that those were the people who worked to keep me safe. Those were the people that I started safety planning with. Those were the people who fundraised for me. Those are the people who replaced broken doors and sent emails to renters and landlords for me. And those are the people who saved my life in so many ways. And after that work, I decided that I wanted to be one of those people, and I wanted to be someone who could help someone like me in similar situations. So, I started scaling up in crisis response skills. I study nonviolent communication. I studied conflict escalation, I studied trauma stewardship, peer response care. And I just really started scaling up not only in how I could prevent myself from experiencing that type of violence, but how can I actually prevent these type of cycles of crisis and violence from occurring in the first place? And how could I actually do that, not just in my own personal life, but in my community? Right now, at a lot of protests, there's the slogan, "We keep us safe!" You know, we believe, at the end of the day, that every community already has the folks, the tools, the relationships, the networks that are actually going to do the best job at keeping us safe. We keep us safe. So, a lot of our work is just how can we empower community? How can we train community? How can we build community capacity to not just respond reactively to crisis as law enforcement does, but to actually proactively build the relationships and build the tools and the resources that folks need to thrive? Because when folks are struggling, when folks lack access to basic material training, to compassionate, loving relationships in their life, that's when we see a chronic crisis. That's when we see escalation. So, a big part of my own experience and coming to this work and this mirrored the experiences of so many of my incredible team members is that we needed other resources to keep us safe that we didn't have. So, that's why we're committed to providing a non-police alternative for crisis response program. Because, like I said earlier, police--that does work for some people. It doesn't work for everyone. So, we want to add another tool to the tool bar.

David Fair: Well, I'd like to thank you so much for the time for sharing your part of this story and the growing story of Care-Based Safety in Washtenaw County. Much appreciated!

Liz Kennedy: Thank you so much, David! This was a great conversation!

David Fair: That is Liz Kennedy. She is co-director of culture and operations with Care-Based Safety, and she's been our guest on Washtenaw United. If you'd like to learn more about our discussion today, you'll find all you need at wemu.org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. And you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Care-Based Safety is a recent recipient of United Way’s 2024 cycle of the Racial Equity Fund— financial support and technical assistance to BIPOC-led organizations through operational unrestricted grants, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

The fund is designed to empower BIPOC-led organizations to provide programs and projects that work toward eliminating racial disparities in pursuit of more equitable and just communities across Washtenaw County.

Following the merge of Washtenaw County to United Way for Southeastern Michigan in the Fall of 2023, this is the first year that the Racial Equity Fund has been introduced to Washtenaw County organizations.

These organizations focus on issues at the intersection of mental health, developmental disabilities, community development and revitalization, education, land ownership, financial literacy, food insecurity, maternal health, housing and more.

With $1 million being allocated to the 2024 Racial Equity Fund cohort, this brings the total investment in local organizations across Southeastern Michigan to $3.2 million since its inception in 2022.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Related Content
  • Mental health and well-being is a growing issue among today’s youngsters. For at-risk kids, the challenges are even greater. The “Telling It” program in Washtenaw County provides an outlet for area youngsters to gather in safe, uncensored and judgment-free spaces. The program's founder, Deb Gordon-Gurfinkel, and lead social worker, Kelly Kundrat, joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss how the process is equipping young people with essential skills that nurtures their well-being and sets them on a path towards success and fulfillment.
  • Connecting to the earth, learning to work, play and learn from the soil below our feet: That’s the mission Willow Run Acres in Ypsilanti and the personal mission of its founder, Farmer T.C. Collins. In addition to nurturing the earth and taking joy in its bounties, Farmer T.C. uses Willow Run Acres to fight food injustice and inequities in economic opportunities for the Black community. The land also serves as an education center for young people, so future generations can connect to the earth. Farmer T.C. joined WEMU’s David Fair on an Earth Day edition of "Washtenaw United."
  • A lot of kids get excited at the prospect of spending a part of the summer at sleepaway camp. The sheer number of activities and the opportunities to make new friends and have a life experience outside the home has a number of benefits. Unfortunately, there are a lot of families that can’t afford to provide that experience. That’s where Washtenaw Camp Placement comes in. Its mission is to help youngsters with less access find their way to the camp experience. WEMU's David Fair talks with executive director Matt Tarver-Wahlquist about how to get connected and the kinds of differences it is making.