Addiction and mental health were among the top priorities listed by Eric Scheffler when he was sworn in as sheriff of Atlantic County, N.J., in November. Less than a year later, Scheffler and his office have put the wheels in motion—literally—on addressing these challenges in their community.
The Hope One Atlantic County mobile addiction treatment unit, a collaboration between the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, the county Sheriff’s Foundation and numerous community partners including several treatment center operators, launched in August. The Hope One van brings a team of specialists to offer support for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
The Hope One van concept was initially developed by Morris County, N.J., Sheriff James Gannon. Scheffler says he learned of the concept through networking with sheriffs across the state. Scheffler, along with his undersheriff Tim Reed, visited with Gannon to learn more about the Hope One. Enamored with the concept, he was given approval to bring it to Atlantic County.
“I absolutely fell in love with it,” Scheffler says. “I asked (Gannon), ‘Can I use this name? I believe hope is an action, not a wish. And I can see action in this vehicle. Action is reaching out and helping people find the path to recovery.’ He said, ‘Absolutely, use the name, use the colors, do whatever you want.’ ”
The Hope One Atlantic County vehicle staff includes a sheriff’s officer, a licensed clinician and a certified peer recovery specialist. Narcan kits and training on how to use them are also provided. The team on the van tracks bed availability at local treatment centers in real time and helps to connect those seeking treatment with the best option to fit their needs. Staff members also provide assistance with securing funding for treatment, including the provision of scholarships and grants.
The vehicle is deployed twice per week to different areas within the county that Scheffler’s office have identified as high-risk for drug activity. The Hope One van will also make appearances at organized functions, where it will still be fully staffed and prepared to help those looking for help.
“If that vehicle is on the street, it’s operational,” Scheffler says.
Banyan Treatment Center is among the operators partnering on the project. Andrew Simpson, Banyan’s community outreach coordinator and a resident of Atlantic County, says when he was approached by Scheffler and Reed about collaborating on the Hope One, the concept was immediately appealing because of its proactive approach to bringing recovery resource out into the community, or, in Simpson’s words, “being a resource on the truck, helping people that may come into the truck or their family members to get connected with resources and triage as fast as we can.”
“You get someone in that moment of willingness,” he says.