In Pursuit of Happy Endings

November 8th, 2018

She’d often be seen walking the streets of Naples, acting abnormally, talking nonsense, disturbing the peace. But she was no physical threat to anyone.

She had been arrested numerous times, but all for naught. She was caught in an ugly cycle of spending some time in jail, where she didn’t get any better, and then back on the streets.

Then Leslie Weidenhammer and her team got involved, and for the homeless woman, things quickly took a turn for the better.

Weidenhammer, a lieutenant with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, heads the agency’s Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT), which partners with David Lawrence Center to help people like the woman described above. DLC provides a full-time counselor—Keri Miller, a licensed clinical social worker—to help run the program.

“We talked to the woman,” remembers Weidenhammer. “It was fairly obvious she had mental health issues but wasn’t getting the help she needed.”

The woman had essentially gone “AWOL” from an ex-husband and a son. The MHIT got her stabilized and into a treatment program with DLC. She is now back living with her family.

“We love those happy endings,” says Weidenhammer.

Weidenhammer recently was honored with the 2018 Distinguished Public Service Award for Law Enforcement, given by the The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. “Since coming to the Sheriff’s Office in 1992, Weidenhammer has embodied the ‘Community, Safety, Service’ values that make Collier County great,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.

The Mental Health Intervention Team, formed in February 2018, intervenes with individuals in the community who are at high risk for mental health and/or addiction challenges. The goal is to keep them out of the regular criminal justice system and into the treatment services they need—often at DLC.

They help about 30 people per month. Since the program started, they’ve interacted with about 100 adults and some 30 juveniles (under the age of 18). About 90 of the people with whom they’ve interacted have been connected with services.

Weidenhammer says that law enforcement—locally and nationally—is now doing a much better job dealing with individuals in mental health crisis.

“There’s still a stigma related to mental illness, but it’s getting better,” she says. “It’s an illness like cancer or heart disease. We’re all doing a better job of recognizing that and getting individuals the help they need.”

As a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trainer, Weidenhammer has trained hundreds of criminal justice professionals in Collier County. She is also a member of the Collier County Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Court teams, alternatives to the traditional court system.

In April, the Collier County Bar Association recognized Weidenhammer with its Medal of Honor for her work in those specialty courts. Judge Janeice Martin praised Weidenhammer’s work as “nothing short of transformational.”

Andy Solis, Chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, added that Weidenhammer “truly cares for those she serves, and conveys the message of help, hope, and recovery in all that she does.”

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