Crisis intervention ‘living room’ to open in Ottawa

Arukah Institute seeks donations to help with construction costs

Sarah Scruggs, founder and CEO of Arukah Institute, speaks about the Living Room concept expected to open in August in Ottawa.

Ottawa will be the next location for a “living room” for people in the middle of personal crises to come for help.

Thursday, the La Salle County Board heard a proposal to help fund the crisis intervention center. Sarah Scruggs of the Arukah Institute of Healing told board members the Illinois Valley area is having a mental health crisis and the rising statistics demand a method of intervention that hospitals cannot provide.

“Rural hospitals are struggling – you all know that,” said Scruggs, who has her Phd. in Physiology and Biophysics. “It’s happening all over the nation. And this is one of the reasons the emergency rooms are revolving doors.”

The statistics underscore a rising need for intervention. Suicides are, regionally, 63% higher than the state average. Overdose deaths surged 80% in La Salle County between 2020 to 2022. The use of naloxone (Narcan) is surging, which indicates stronger and harder drugs are being abused.

Scruggs’ proposal is to operate a 24-hour welcome center at 201 E. Joliet St. where people dealing with mental health or personal issues can come seeking help. The living room, as she termed it, will be staffed by counselors and intervention specialists who can either deliver on-site care or make referrals for substance abuse or mental health treatment.

“We’re never going to turn you away,” Scruggs said. “It’s absolutely free. We may not have the services on site but we will make sure you get the help you need.”

The Arukah Institute has had success in Princeton. Overdoses have gone down by 80% in Bureau County in the past six years.

“We feel like that speaks to what Arukah is doing,” Scruggs said.

Arukah, a non-profit entity founded in 2017, employs 52 workers steeped in outreach and intervention. Arukah will fund the living room with a recently awarded grant of $750,000; but Scruggs appealed to the board for construction costs not covered by the grant – and soon. The group needs about $150,000.

“Mid-August would be ideal,” Scruggs said. “It absolutely has to be functioning by September.”

A vote from the La Salle County Board to fund the construction portion of the project is pending, but several members expressed support.

“I’ve very proud you chose Ottawa to bring this to La Salle County,” said Board Member Pamela Beckett, D-Ottawa.

Former Ottawa Mayor Dan Aussem said he is encouraged by Arukah’s approach that works to remove any stigma around mental health. Aussem, Mayor Robb Hasty, Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson and La Salle County Sheriff Adam Diss are among the officials Arukah has communicated with in its planning.

“We need to change the perception around mental health,” Aussem said.

The building offers 4,000 square feet for the Living Room and 2,000 square feet of counseling space.

The Living Room will have large communal spaces along with private spaces for one-on-one services.

“We anticipate many participants coming from working with the La Salle County Jail and court system,” Scruggs said. “The Living Room can help provide after care for someone reentering society. Like our Living Room in Princeton, folks will be able to walk into the Living Room to receive crisis support, social support or other basic resources like food, water, laundry, a hot shower, help with a job application, or help obtaining an ID card. Concerned parents or family members also use the Living Room to receive resources on how to navigate the situation with their loved one. A full-time psychiatrist on Arukah’s staff will be available to support any medical needs.”

A number of officials and social workers gather Friday, July 7, 2023, at the location of Arukah Institute's proposed Living Room concept in Ottawa.