Burlington, VT — With 22 shootings so far this year, the surge in gun violence has some in Burlington calling for an increased focus on mental health services. On Tuesday, the City of Burlington paired with local mental health organizations to host a mental health summit.

The summit is a two-day event, and mental health service companies in Burlington can get together with the city to discuss ways to increase services in the Queen City. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger sees mental health as a challenge for the community. “We see it on our streets, we see it in what’s happening at the hospital, we see it on the rising calls of services to our first responders,” said Mayor Weinberger.

On Monday night, Burlington recorded its 22nd gunfire incident in 2022 with a shooting at Perkins Pier. The Queen City is well on pace to surpass the total number of gunfire incidents from the previous two years combined. 

Social workers at the Howard Center say that mental health discussions need to start early in life, particularly, for students in schools.

“We need to meet the needs of people long before they are in crisis,” said Brandi Littlefield, Assistant Director of First Call, Howard Center. “We cannot do that in the current system.”

Last academic year, the Howard Center informally helped over 1,500 students in Chittenden County. The Howard Center’s outreach extends to Burlington’s streets and under its street program, five Howard Center employees patrol the downtown to help those who suffer from chronic mental illnesses. Other services offered at the Howard Center range from substance use and recovery counseling to community trainings and workshops.

“All of these things that I just mentioned work at the goal of enhancing trust between people,” said Christina Pasnick, Clinical Social Worker for The Howard Center. However, clinicians say more has to be done and the concern surrounding the lack of staff to keep up with demand remains. 

“We don’t have many options for group therapy for kids at all. Countless families have been put on waitlists for psychiatrists and therapists that just keep growing. I’ve had people waiting over a year to access a therapist.”

A new police union contract involves increasing the salary of police officers in Burlington in an effort to attract officers. Social workers like Pasnick are calling on the Queen City to do the same for mental health workers.

“If you can see the value of competitive pay and benefits when it comes to attracting and retaining workers in the police force, then I implore you to apply the same logic to mental health workers.”

Mental health organizations hope to continue discussions with Burlington officials moving forward. Discussions will continue on Wednesday for the second day of the mental health summit.

Organizations like the Howard Center wants those experiencing mental health challenges to seek help.