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San Diego county opens its fifth stabilization unit to help those in a mental health or substance use crisis

Today, San Diego County “cut the ribbon” on a new community-based crisis stabilization unit in Oceanside. As KPBS North County reporter Alexander Nguyen shows us, it’s a calming space for those seeking mental health care.

San Diego County officials Monday cut the ribbon on a new community-based crisis stabilization unit in Oceanside. It's the fifth in the county, and the third in North County.

A community-based crisis stabilization unit, or CSU, is a place where people experiencing a mental health or substance-use crisis can go to seek help outside of an emergency room. Services are provided on a walk-in basis. They have been proven to be successful in getting people the help they needed.

The Vista CSU, which opened at the end of September 2021, so far has offered assistance 1,686 times. A little more than 27% of adults helped were repeat visitors, and about 25% of those were people experiencing homelessness, according to the county.


People needing immediate behavioral health help should call 9-1-1. Help is also available by calling the county's Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 or by going to

County officials say what makes the CSUs so successful is that they are designed to have a calm, relaxing atmosphere to help people in crisis decompress. Inside the 8,000-square-foot facility, there are recliners, gardens, patios and reflection rooms.

"The success of these crisis stabilization centers is that — to reduce the crisis and to help stabilize the individual so they can be linked back with their family and other people supporting them,” said Nick Macchione, director of the county's Health and Human Services Department.

Without these crisis centers, he said people might be taken to emergency rooms or jails and never get the help they need. CSUs allow for more options to connect people to the care they need, he said.

CSUs are also a safe alternative for law enforcement to hand-off care. Oceanside police Chief Fred Armijo said his agency receives several mental health services calls a day.

“The number of calls for service that have a mental health component to them has increased dramatically over the last several years," he said. "So it's common — for several times a day — that we're getting somebody into some form of mental health services.”


It could take his officers several hours to handle these calls, including transporting and accompanying people experiencing mental health distress to hospitals. With CSUs, the call times could be cut down to as little as 10 mins.

That's exactly what these centers are intended to do, said Nathan Fletcher, San Diego County Board of Supervisors Board Chair. That way, people get the help they need and officers can be back on patrol.

"More important to that, we are getting people the right care, the right engagement, the right counseling, the right treatment plan, the right ongoing level of support and services they need,” he said.

For the past few years, the county has made significant increases in investment and funding to provide better access to behavioral health services. CSUs are the county's way of expanding behavioral health services throughout the region.

So far this year, CSUs have helped 5,200 individuals. Only 5% of those were referred to higher-level care. Most were able to return home to their families within the day. That's a 95% success rate, Fletcher said.

The county is planning to open a sixth CSU soon. This time in East County.

The Oceanside center, located at 1701 Mission Ave., will open to the public starting next week.

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