People with Lived Experience as First Responders: Successes and Challenges

Jalyn Radziminski, Vania Mendoza, e.v. Yost, esq., Lewis Bossing, Esq.

Across the country, people with lived experience are working in every aspect of the behavioral health system, building relationships of trust and support, and helping people with disabilities avoid institutionalization and incarceration by making decisions that promote their recovery. This include peer specialists working as first responders for people with emergent behavioral health issues in behavioral health “crisis” service systems. Especially as states across the nation implement the new 988 system for responding to calls for support, it is critical to understand how people with lived experience may be employed in crisis call centers, on mobile response teams, and in pre- or post-crisis apartments for respite and stabilization. It is also important to appreciate how peers contribute to cultural competence in the crisis service system, and the continuing challenges for people with lived experience who want to work in this area.

The Bazelon Center seeks to advance the important role of people with lived experience as behavioral health professionals, including as first responders to calls for service that otherwise might go to the police. Speakers on this panel will discuss their experiences in developing and working in these systems. Vania Mendoza will discuss the work of peer specialists as members of San Francisco’s Street Crisis Response Teams. From Baltimore, e.v. yost will describe the progress her volunteer group of TLGBQIA+ people are making in organizing supports for crisis and post-crisis care. Lewis Bossing from the Bazelon Center will highlight the work of people with lived experience in other communities, and challenges in accessing funding, training, and credentialing to support these efforts. The Bazelon Center’s Jalyn Radziminski, a longtime advocate for BIPOC and disability communities with lived experience, will moderate this forum, which may include additional guests.


Learning objectives for the presentation include:

  • Understanding the many roles that people with lived experience can play in the behavioral health “crisis” service system;
  • Identifying training needed for this work, and training opportunities that may be available;
  • Appreciating the barriers to peer work as first responders, including credentialing, bias and lack of cultural competence, and financing through Medicaid; and
  • Identifying steps you can take in your community to make crisis services more effective through the work of people with lived experience.