Stratford program takes holistic approach to helping
STRATFORD — Cops collar bad guys. Firefighters put out fires. EMTs rush people to the ER. That’s how most people picture local services at work.
And, in a perfect world, that’s maybe how things should work. But as Larry Ciccarelli will tell you, this isn’t a perfect world.
Ciccarelli is the town’s director of public safety and he sees more hard-luck cases in a month than most people see in a lifetime — people who have found themselves on the fringes of society and who are looking for a path toward some degree of normalcy.
“We began to realize that having every department staying in their own little compartment doing their own thing might not be the best approach,” he said. “So we began what we call the Community Care Program, or C2 for short.”
He said that the idea is to take representatives from key town government departments — everything from the Baldwin Senior Center to the Police Department — and get them to meet and work together to help people who have had setbacks.
“It first began with discussions on how to deal with opiate addiction — how can we, as a community, holistically help people instead of locking them up,” Ciccarelli said. “And not only the user, but what about the family? The parents, the siblings, the children.”
He said that families with someone who has drug or alcohol addiction see their lives spiraling downward, too.
“For starters, they’re taking a huge financial hit,” he said. “Even in families that seem pretty well-off, a home with someone who is drug- or alcohol-dependent can run through a lot of cash pretty quickly.”
He explained that the approach used in the past — to incarcerate users — has a low success rate and often winds up costing society more in the long run.
“That’s the vertical approach — to throw the guilty party in jail, and then they’re out on the street with the same problem before long,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to look at the problem horizontally.”
He said the C2 teams check on places where homeless, the addicted and the have-nots seem to congregate, such as the former Ramada Inn (near the transfer station) and the Honeyspot Motor Inn.
Tammy Trojanowski, the administrator of community services said that departments have a long history of “working in silos” and has finally begun to work together to solve some intrenched problems.
“We give them what we call a ‘warm hand-off,’ ” said Kate Venison, the town’s clinical case coordinator who Ciccarelli credits with providing the idea for the C2 concept.
“For this to work, you have to go in as a team,” Ciccarelli said. “You can’t have just the fire marshal show up one day, a detective a couple says later and a social worker a day after that. You all have to work together and be there at the same time.”
The C2 team — which has only been operating for the last four months or so, has even dealt with issues like homelessness, unemployment, obesity and giving people Narcan training — the opioid overdose drug that has saved thousands of lives. They’ve even tackled the problem of kids in groups riding their bikes recklessly and unlicensed dogs.
“Is this easy work? No — it’s hard to keep people on the same page and deal with a variety of issues, with each one needing a different approach,” Ciccarelli said. “And since we don’t have a lot of money, we’ve formed partnerships with nonprofits, like the local clergy, the Red Cross and others.”
Venison agrees. “We’ve created relationships to where detox and recovery experts can be brought to the table to help the drug user and the family.”