It’s more than just detox — Hennepin County has a new alternative to jail or ER for mental health crises

A light brown brick building
1800 Chicago has been transformed from a detox center to be much more.
Courtesy of Hennepin County Department of Health

For a long time, the address 1800 Chicago in Minneapolis has been synonymous with detox. As in, end-of-the-road, hit-rock-bottom detox.

Now Hennepin County is turning the facility into a one-stop shop for services ranging from detox to mental health care to help signing up for low-income housing. It’s designed to keep people with mental health and substance use problems out of jail and hospitals.

About a third of the people in the Hennepin County jail on any given day have a mental illness or need mental health care, which is rough on the people themselves, and on the jail.

The goal is to keep people from getting caught up in the cycle of jail and hospital, said Leah Kaiser, administrator of behavioral health for the Hennepin County Department of Health and Human Services.

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“They need help,” she said, “they need health care and human service support in order to stabilize them in order that they don't continually call 911 and cycle through those systems.”

The building used to be a hospital, and for now a lot of it still has an institutional feel. But the county has been renovating, even as programs start moving in. Police can bring a person there, instead of to jail or to the emergency room. Or people can just walk in off the street.

David Stribling came to 1800 Chicago last year for detox. When he was about to be released, he heard about the crisis stabilization program there.

“One of the very last times I was in detox,” he said, “I was told about The Reentry on the second floor from detox. And I'm like what? Because I don't want to go on the streets no more. The streets don't do me well. So I went down there. Awesome.”

The Reentry program gives people who are in a mental health crisis a place to go; they can stay for as long as 10 days.

Stribling’s life has been complicated. He said he’s had a mental illness since he was a kid. He was locked up for more than ten years in Wisconsin for a bank robbery that he said was connected to using crack. He moved to Minnesota after he got out of prison and he's been homeless on and off since then.

He said the stabilization program has made all the difference lately. “It was welcoming, I felt safe; I felt secure; I felt respected and I was introduced awesome case manager. All of the good stuff that's happening to me now is basically because of the ReEntry.”

Now stribling living in supportive housing and trying to get social security benefits.

Stabilization and detox are just two of many services offered at 1800 Chicago; there are offices and agencies to help people connect to services like housing and health insurance. There's even a health clinic staffed by people from the Emergency Medicine Department at Hennepin County Medical Center. But mental health care takes center stage. The clinic administrator said he can't remember a case he's seen that doesn’t involve mental health in some way.

1800 Chicago joins a growing number of one-stop shops that are popping up around the country as a way to connect people with mental illness to treatment — and even more importantly, to keep them out of jail.

Nastassia Walsh, works on mental health and criminal justice for the National Association of Counties, said in most places, when the police encounter somebody in crisis, they have two options: take the person to the hospital or to jail. And neither option is appropriate under all circumstances, she said.

“And so folks have been creating these new sorts of alternatives as a way to give a law enforcement officer that third option or as a way to have an individual have an option that isn't the emergency department when they are in some sort of behavioral health crisis,” Walsh said.

Different counties have built different types of centers to meet their particular needs, she said. What's consistent, no matter which county, though, is the need for cooperation between prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement and mental health providers.

There has been an ongoing soft launch at 1800 Chicago. The mental health crisis center opened at the end of last summer and the regular health clinic opened six months ago. By the end of next year, the facility is expected to be fully operational, 24/7.

This reporting is part of Call to Mind, our MPR initiative to foster new conversations about mental health.

If you or someone you know has sought help at 1800 Chicago, or could have benefitted from a place like 1800 Chicago, we want to hear from you: or on Twitter at @alisa_roth