Hennepin County officials hope an expanding health center just south of downtown Minneapolis will become an alternative to emergency rooms or jails for people suffering a mental health crisis.

The Behavioral Health Center, at 1800 Chicago Av. S., received more than $1 million in federal grants this month. County officials also approved plans for a new medical facility to be built there next summer.

The goal of the center is to decrease recidivism for people who are often homeless or poor and find themselves in frequent contact with police.

“We all know that there are people in jail who have mental-health issues who shouldn’t be there,” Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty said Tuesday.

“This will certainly give law enforcement an opportunity to bring people somewhere where they know they’ll be getting help,” she said. “Anytime you can keep someone out of the criminal justice system, it’s a good thing.”

About $750,000 from the Department of Justice and $287,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services would be used to hire more case managers and peer-recovery specialists from agencies contracted to work at the center.

The county-owned, three-story building accepts walk-ins and has teams that help people apply for health care, a withdrawal management program and a short-term mental-crisis program with 16 beds.

This month, the board approved initial designs for a triage center on the first floor to evaluate people with substance abuse or mental health problems. They could then be referred to services within the building, other community agencies or to a hospital.

The county hopes to finish construction on the triage center by early 2020. It will then be open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and eventually 24 hours a day.

Leah Kaiser, who oversees adult behavioral health for the county, said that once the triage center is open, it could treat people with “complex care needs” who otherwise are stuck in the criminal justice system.

Moriarty, who along with Kaiser co-chairs the committee that has worked on the Behavioral Health Center, praised the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, which, she said, has agreed not to charge certain people with low-level misdemeanors if they are taken to the center by police.

County Commissioner Debbie Goettel said the center’s expansion will help people get needed care. “We won’t get ahead of this if we don’t start doing something more aggressive,” she said.