The Rock County Human Services Department plans to use $212,702 in state funding to help people who need housing and peer support as well as first responders experiencing stress and mental health issues.

The money comes from a state program that aims to help communities address behavioral and mental health issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rock County is one of seven counties to receive money, according to a news release from the state Department of Health Services.

Mental Health America of Wisconsin and Behavioral Consulting Services were also awarded funding.

Kate Luster, director of human services, said the county will use the money for three programs, one of which will be a new countywide effort.

For the first time, the county will have a coordinated program to help law enforcement officers and first responders cope with the stress of critical incident response, Luster said.

The human services department will partner with the Rock County Sheriff’s Office to hire someone with experience in aiding people through high-stress situations. That person will coordinate the program and help organizations across the county, Luster said.

First responder stress management and mental health aid have been available through some county agencies, but this will be the first effort to standardize aid across the county, Luster said.

The county will use some of the money to help people secure housing through rent or security deposit assistance, Luster said.

Much of the aid the county receives for mental health must be used to support treatment services, but this grant is a rare opportunity to use funds for housing, she said.

Rock County has experienced a housing shortage in recent years, which makes it difficult for low-income people to find housing, Luster said. The economic fallout from the pandemic has exacerbated that situation.

Housing insecurity can increase problems for people with mental health or substance abuse challenges, Luster said.

Funding also will be used to increase access to peer support for people struggling with a variety of issues. The county is contracting with Rock Valley Community Programs to help connect more people with peer support specialists, a practice the county has been doing for years, Luster said.

Anecdotally, county officials have seen more people who are feeling isolated or anxious during the pandemic, which can lead to substance abuse, mental health hospitalizations or suicides.

The county wants to be proactive about helping people through those challenges, Luster said.

People can help by reaching out to others and asking them if they are OK or need help, she said.

Although the human services department is doing a lot of work online or remotely, staffers are still able to help people in any way they can, she said.

“We are open for business and really willing and able to intervene and help,” she said.