A mental health desert is how some people describe the city of Muscatine.

They want to change that.

The Muscatine Center for Social Action is opening a mental health center.

Organizers say 20% of the people who used other services like the shelter kept coming back for help.

About a year and a half ago, they did some digging and realized a lot of those people needed mental health care.

That’s when they started working on opening a place to help.

The center already offers a shelter, food pantry, and health clinic.

The executive director says addressing mental health was the natural next step.

Now, they’re teaming up with the robert young center to do that.

The new space may not look like a mental health center, but that’s the point.

“There’s no stress. There’s no pressure, there’s no sales pitch. You come in, you can watch TV, you can get a cup of coffee, you can play checkers,” says Scott Dahlke, executive director of the Muscatine Center for Social Action.

Dahlke says the goal of their new peer mental health drop-in center is to provide a safe space.

“People with mental health will sometimes isolate themselves, it’s a coping skill. We don’t want that. The more you push yourself, the more you challenge yourself, the better you can address your treatment,” Dahlke says.

Five professionals will be available, including what’s called a peer specialist.

“When people are talking to somebody who’s got a lived experience with mental health that can relate to them, treatment’s way more effective,” he says.

But you don’t have to accept treatment here.

“We’ve actually had some people come in and actually they would let you know how they’re feeling and then they’d be like, ‘I just want to be left alone right now.’ And we offer that, just for people to come in and de-stress a little bit,” says Alexander Curtis, a mental health care coordinator at the center.

Still a week before it’s grand opening, traffic is already picking up at the facility.

“One or two people here and there every day and that was like the infant stages and now just three weeks in we have 8-10 people coming in and out,” Curtis says.

He says the facility is filling a gap in Muscatine, which Dahlke calls a mental health desert.

“If we look at mental illness like we look at diabetes and you just have to take care of it everyday, people can live long and happy lives. We can do this better and this is our chance to try,” Dahlke says.

The new center rounds out other mental health services at MCSA including a suicide hotline and a “warm line” for people who aren’t necessarily suicidal but just want to talk.

The warm line is available 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. every day: 1-844-755-WARM.

You can find more information about MCSA’s services here.