By Chloe Scheid
My name is Chloe and I am a junior at the University of Oregon working on my Bachelor of Arts. I am majoring in psychology and minoring in nonprofit administration. These interests led me to apply for an internship with ShelterCare. When I imagined what my future career might look like, I saw myself working at a nonprofit that increases access to mental health care. I really admired how ShelterCare contributes to this mission and brings safety and housing to those that need it most. I have spent the last 10 weeks interning with the Development department which is a small but mighty department responsible for all things fundraising as well an array of other projects. Development is what makes nonprofits run and I was thrilled to be a part of that.
Much of the work I get to do is the little details; but the little details are exactly what makes ShelterCare special. Every day is different. Some days I’m volunteering at the Run For Your Life zombie themed 5k and some days I’m addressing envelopes to express our gratitude to our donors. No task is insignificant to me.
However, some of the most rewarding work I’ve gotten to do is the big stuff. One of my favorite projects was helping to research and order items to make move-in kits for individuals and families moving into housing. I knew that everything I chose was an item that would become part of someone’s household and I knew how much that would mean to the people receiving it. After a spreadsheet of items was ordered, our office was soon filled to the brim with boxes not to mention the back of my car when I went to retrieve pick up orders (side note: certain retail locations get very confused when you pick up 14 toilet plungers!). Helping people on their journey to housing in this way really made me feel like I was making an impact in their lives.
Another great project I got to be involved in was grant writing. I had taken one grant writing class at school but hadn’t yet gotten to use those skills in real life. It was incredibly valuable to be able to use those skills and build on them as I got feedback. I was able to work on a lot of practical writing skills that will help me in my future career. I also wrote a radio ad, many outreach emails, and several social media posts all of which I got feedback and edits on to improve my skills.
I was also able to connect with other staff members at ShelterCare and people from other nonprofits that gave me advice for my education and career that I would have never been able to get otherwise. This experience empowered me with knowledge and information about working in nonprofits as well as strengthened my skills and prepared me for a future career. I am so glad that I chose to apply at ShelterCare and that I was given the opportunity to help with so many diverse projects. I will take all of these skills and experiences with me through my education and career and ShelterCare will always have a place in my heart.
October is often referred to as ‘Pinktober’ as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I mention this because, as a breast cancer survivor of eight years, it obviously strikes a chord with me on a personal level. Some of you can relate with me, remembering how traumatic it was to first go through several progressively invasive tests and finally receiving the phone call from my doctor letting me know that I was indeed diagnosed with cancer.
I was “lucky.” My cancer was found in the earliest stages because I had good preventative healthcare and, because of my early detection, I had options for treatment that might not have been available if I’d put off my annual mammogram.
I was privileged. I had the resources to get treatment. Dependable shelter and nutrition for recovery. A network of family and friends to help with childcare, meals, and errands. Full disclosure, it was a bit more difficult as my husband was ALSO diagnosed with cancer the same week I was. (We should have bought a lottery ticket, right?)
But still, six months later, after a bilateral mastectomy, I was getting back on my feet and trying to find my new normal. My son made a cartoon ‘Survivor Superhero’ for me, and while I didn’t feel very super, I managed to get to work and move on, perhaps a little wiser from the experience.
Now imagine my story, but take out the access to preventative healthcare so that diagnosis isn’t made until later cancer stages. Now imagine no dependable shelter or food. Now imagine no network of support.
This is all too frequently the story of the unhoused. The fastest growing demographic of unhoused people is senior women, often due to a health crisis.
If you have faced your own cancer (or other serious disease) diagnosis, you know that no matter how early the stage, treatment is painful and takes every ounce of energy for recovery. I couldn’t raise my arms or hold anything heavier than a cell phone for months. I cannot fathom trying to recover while living in a tent, not knowing how secure I am or where my next meal will be.
The ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) program works in partnership with Trillium, PacificSource, and PeaceHealth to identify literally homeless patients who have had traumatic diagnoses and treatments and need a safe, secure place to stay while they recover. These patients are recovering from cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, and many other serious health issues, but are not serious enough to need hospital care. ShelterCare staff provides housing search support for when they’re ready to leave SMR and helps them navigate the healthcare system so that they continue to receive ongoing health care as needed. We have only 19 units available…a drop in the bucket to meet the need.
So this October, as we wear our pink and promote breast cancer awareness, take a moment to think about what YOU would do if you got the worst news you could imagine…and had nowhere to go. Then thank the many people who make ShelterCare Medical Recuperation possible.
– Michelle Hankes, ShelterCare CEO
Hearing your doctor say, “you have cancer,” is a nightmare for anyone. Now imagine facing that diagnosis without having a safe place to go home to, throughout treatment. That is what ShelterCare program participant, Rob, experienced, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. “During COVID, there weren’t places to just go. It was the day before my birthday, in 2020, that I got diagnosed (with colon cancer) – I got surgery instead of cake that year. With the help of someone at Willamette Valley Cancer, I got into ShelterCare’s Medical Recuperation program – I didn’t even know it existed!” Rob explains.
ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) is a 19-bed facility that provides safe, emergency shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness and have recently been discharged from the hospital after an acute medical episode, yet still require limited care. Rob talked about his experience living there, “At SMR, every morning, staff is on the intercom asking how you’re doing. They would control my meds for me too.” One of his favorite parts was the food, “The guy who cooked over there, Boyd, he really tried for variety. We had trout one time! I took pictures of it!”
Rob described the treatment process he went through, “I had my first ostomy surgery the day after my diagnosis…then a couple of weeks went by and I started a combination of oral chemo and radiation. I did that for 6-8 weeks. Then there’s six weeks of recovery…you suddenly become an old doddering guy who uses a cane! Then it was time for infusion chemotherapy…I did that for four months.”
The long process meant that Rob couldn’t stay at SMR for all of it, “I was having surgery and I was in the ICU at McKenzie (McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center) when my stay in the SMR program terminated and I had to be over at the other place (ShelterCare Short Term Housing) now.” He explains what it meant to him that ShelterCare staff were able to make everything work in order to keep him housed throughout treatment, “I have no idea what I would’ve done had there not been ShelterCare programs. It was the perfect thing at the perfect time each time.”
The symptoms Rob experienced while going through cancer treatment meant he needed extra support, “I remember when I did chemotherapy at SMR, it was one of the weirdest things I ever did. I lived in my head a lot. A thought would just go out of my head like smoke and go poof. I had no idea what I had asked, if I’d even asked a question, or if I’d even had a thought. I tried really hard to keep my thoughts organized, but they just didn’t survive…so it was cool to have staff telling me I needed to get on housing waitlists.” SMR provides program participants like Rob with case management and resource navigation as well as everything they need to safely recover, such as three meals a day, medication monitoring, and transportation to appointments.
It’s hard to know what to expect when beginning cancer treatment. One thing Rob wasn’t expecting was having to experience addiction and withdrawal during the process, due to being prescribed OxyContin during treatment, “I was on Oxy. I was pretty sure I was addicted and I wanted to go through a (addiction) program, but not when I had four different machines attached to me.” Rob ended up tapering off the Oxy too fast triggering a withdrawal, “I had CAHOOTS in for a couple days in a row. The third day, the triage person at Riverstone (clinic) said I needed to go to the ER and get fluids. They put one bag in and it was still too low. They put another bag in and pow I came back! A few days later, I had my last Oxy!“
The whole experience was a wake up call for Rob, “I have discovered there’s a lot of meaningful reality to the phrase ‘medically fragile’,” he explained, “It’s like being new again and that’s freaking scary!”
Rob has won his battle against cancer and is now living in his own place, where he still has staff available to check in with him through his recovery, “They have a wellness check here – you have to hang it outside your door by 10:00 P.M. and if you don’t, they check on you. They also check on you in the morning.” He says his recovery is going well, “I just talked to the doctor this morning and asked if I’m cleared for the treadmill and he said yes!”
“I am on the 13th floor here – I looked out my window and saw a hawk fly right past one time! I have imposter syndrome here, “Really? This is for me??” Rob humbly explains, “I feel like I owe now because of these programs; I have to figure out a way to give back – a lot. I would’ve been not doing well in a cardboard box.”
“Now that I’ve moved in here, I’ve got at least a year to work on finding out what my new boundaries are and what I can do,” says Rob, pondering what’s next for him, “There aren’t going to be big wins all the time. You’re going to have to look at the small wins and acknowledge them.”
ShelterCare’s Medical Recuperation program provides the support that helps people like Rob safely recover from a variety of medical diagnoses, such as cancer.
From a very young age, I became deeply committed to helping others. My story is not a heartfelt one but is important to why I feel the drive and commitment to giving back to my community. My mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was two years old, she was barely entering her twenties. Unfortunately, she did not have a good support system nor did she always get the help she needed or deserved. She quickly went down a path involving drugs and alcohol, which led to a very unstable life for us all. I can remember many instances of being homeless, spending nights in shelters, sleeping in a vehicle, and the feeling of hunger. It made for a rough childhood and I was forced to grow up quickly. I had to step up to care for my younger siblings and at times, my mother herself. We moved from city to city and never really had a stable foundation.
Unfortunately, my brothers and I were eventually taken from her. We were separated and placed into foster homes when I was eleven years old, my brothers being four and eight. We were never to be placed in her care again. My mother continued to be in and out of state hospitals and correction facilities. None of them truly ever helped her and maybe never heard her cries for help. She lost her battle with mental illness and addiction shortly after I turned nineteen. It forever changed our lives. Although it was a hard way to grow up, my childhood shaped me into the person I am today. I have strived to take my hardship and shape it into something beautiful.
Every one of us is vulnerable at any given point in time because of our individual life circumstances. Everyone has a story that has shaped who they are today. My life experiences have not crippled me, although it has encouraged my connection to public welfare and inspired me to serve others. I have always felt whole when I have a hand in a positive change for those who are struggling, marginalized, and overlooked by most of our society.
I have witnessed and experienced the struggles of mental illness, addiction, and a lack of a system that truly can help people. Our nation seems to not take addiction or mental health issues seriously enough to make real changes to the systems in place. Many people are influenced by the negative stigma and preconceptions associated with mental illness and addiction. Those with mental illnesses are all too commonly subjected to negative stigmas and brushed aside as if they do not matter. I strive to be a part of something that changes that and why I have found myself working for ShelterCare.
ShelterCare is one of the largest advocates in Lane County for the community that struggles with mental illness, homelessness, and who are medically fragile. ShelterCare is an agency that focuses its efforts on serving individuals and families, who are chronically homeless or in danger of becoming homeless and wanting a safe and stable place to call home in our community. We focus our efforts on creating a stable foundation by focusing on providing safe and secure housing so that other basic life needs can fall into place. ShelterCare has many different housing programs that seem to fit the differences in the needs of the community we serve. Our services range from short-term housing for individuals and families to a medical recuperation shelter, permanent housing solutions, and behavioral health support. It is a large umbrella of services that can help at any phase of the homelessness pandemic in our community and keeps supported services going even after being housed, to promote successful transitions.
Our participants range from all walks of life with one horrible thing in common, homelessness. Every one of us deserves a fighting chance. If you are able, please reach out and help a person in need. One small gesture can change a person’s world. Please consider donating to ShelterCare and making a difference today.
Jessica Shafer (she/her)
Permanent Supported Housing
By navigating housing options within an existing social network, ShelterCare’s REDS program (Rapid Exit and Diversion Services) works to help newly unhoused individuals avoid overwhelmed emergency shelters and unsheltered living situations. Shadowing alongside two of RED’s Rapid Resolution Specialists, I was able to get a firsthand look at the work they do in our community. On a warm afternoon, I followed the team over to a popular spot where community members experiencing homelessness hang out. We set up a table, put out some snacks and water, and waited for people to come by.
As people came to the table one by one, each inquired about why we were there. Either Chelsea or David, the Rapid Resolution Specialists, would explain the REDS program. Each pitch was a little different, but essentially the same. “If you know anyone who you can stay with, but they live in a different state, or the relationship needs mediation, or maybe we could help with the electric bill as payment for letting you stay, we can help,” they’d say. If someone does fit into one of these situations, the team can then do the necessary resource navigation to get them sheltered. This can look like getting in touch with family members or friends to confirm someone can stay with them, buying tickets to get people to different places around the country, or one of my favorites, helping with the down payment for Oxford housing, a self-run, self-supported recovery house for people struggling with a substance use disorder. The team said that the last option is a popular one, and one of their favorite ways to help, too, particularly because this solution offers a pathway for people to get into long-term, sustainable, and stable housing.
Though a small percentage of people experiencing homelessness fit within the specific categories that the REDS program serves, this has its upsides. Eugene has a number of street outreach programs run by different nonprofit organizations, and at ShelterCare, we strive to reach the specific and niche populations that are not being served by the others so as to avoid duplicating services. This also helps us reach a perhaps small, but nonetheless underserved, population.
One challenge of working with such a diverse group, such as the unhoused community, is that people’s needs and desires regarding housing vary across a wide spectrum. There is no one quick fix or solution that can be applied across the board. The REDS program recognizes that, and has found a way to meet a broad spectrum of unique needs and desires by going directly to the source, and then navigating through people’s social networks to meet their housing needs.
My experience working with the REDS team opened my eyes to the diversity of needs within Eugene’s unhoused population and helped me to understand why outreach programs like REDS are so vitally important.
Please note: the contract for ShelterCare’s REDS program has recently ended.
“Having a program that seeks you out is so important because when you’re out there on the streets, there’s nothing — there’s no hope,” says ShelterCare Birch program participant Loren. “You don’t see people getting off the street, you just see more people getting added, so having someone seek you out really means a lot — it changes your outlook on hopelessness. Even though you can get that low, there’s someone who will find you.”
ShelterCare’s Birch program is a transitional shelter and case management program working to help divert people with serious mental health needs from jails and psychiatric hospitals and enable them to stabilize in the community. Birch clients have been found unable to aid and assist in their own legal defense and are referred to ShelterCare by the courts and Lane County Behavioral Health. Most Birch participants were unhoused prior to their stay in the Oregon State Hospital or jail. ShelterCare operates three homes within the Eugene metro. They house nine people, with pending court charges, at a time. Staff have offices within the homes and offer onsite support groups such as art and mindfulness. The Birch program has served 21 individuals in the last year.
Participation in the Birch program immensely decreases the individual’s utilization of local emergency services.
Loren explains how Birch helped him remain out of jail, “I worked my entire life and when I wasn’t working, I was on drugs, then I would jump right back into being employed, so I think it’s really special to be given a period of your life when you’re able to just reflect on where you’re at and what you’re doing…they are there to hear you and help you with personal forgiveness no matter what you’re doing. You really are slotted for success immediately.”
ShelterCare believes in the Housing First model, meaning that people must first become housed, then they are able to work on other personal goals without being in survival mode. “Before entering the (Birch) program, they put me in a soft release. Someone comes and meets you upon exiting jail and gives you a tent, sleeping bag, and cell phone. That happened two times, then the third time I was exiting jail, I met Josh, Brittany, and Risa. They took me right from jail into housing,” explains Loren. “I think a really good thing is that it’s not meant to force you into anything, but they are there to support you for as long as you need just to regain your sanity, and I think that’s really important in people’s lives like mine.”
Loren is a life-long Eugene native and musician. He reminisces on his time before becoming unhoused, saying “I used to make a lot of music! We made a bunch of albums and played a bunch of shows — hundreds of shows around town and we got to tour!”
He explains how drugs were the root of his homelessness, “Then I fell off the rocker and into drugs. I was homeless for about 2 ½ years. I was trying to make it out there, but everything collapsed. It was scary because people stopped being hospitable. I ran out of people to beg for money from. I did some heroin and got locked up.”
Loren says the support that the Birch program provided changed his life, “I went from having completely nothing and being a shot of heroin away from going to jail to having everything back.”
Now that Loren is in his own independent housing, works full time, and is clean and sober, he is thinking about what he wants for his future. “I’m starting to feel the age and the need for responsibility and to really start thinking about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. What do I want to grow old doing? Where do I want to grow old? How am I going to pay for these things?” he ponders, “My goal is to get to a place where I’m really secure and proud of myself.”
Loren already has a lot to be proud of, “I give myself less credit than I deserve – I did really well and I’m impressed with myself.” In addition to remaining self-sufficient, Loren’s goals are around building connections “my goals are mostly around finding quality friendships – people who are supportive of me, understand what I’ve been through, and still stick around,” he says.
He was really excited to share about his new pet, “I’m going to get a kitten today, I’m super excited!” The kitten’s name is Moses.
Our Birch program provides the support that helps people like Loren become stably housed. Your donation supports programs like Birch and makes a difference in the lives of over 2,500 ShelterCare program participants each year. Will you support ShelterCare by making a donation today?
The social service network of any community is a vital part of ensuring the resiliency and safety of the residents. Services can include anything from counseling to housing support, senior services to infant care, and education to emergency services. Anyone can have an incident in their lives that can send them into a tailspin.
We all need help at some point.
None of these services are possible without the individuals who provide them. The people who work for social service agencies are highly skilled in their areas of expertise from working with children to seniors and everything in between. The most vulnerable people in our community depend upon these essential workers who, even through the pandemic, wildfires, heat domes, and blizzards, step up and show up.
There are still other staff who may not work directly with clients, but ensure that services are accomplished by doing other needed behind the scenes work such as doing payroll and insurance, IT and infrastructure, staff training and recruitment, and so on.
And yet their pay is often less than that offered at fast food restaurants or far less than those doing the same work at a “for profit” company.
Why? The answer is twofold.
Many of the services provided by nonprofits are paid through grants that come from federal, state, or local governments. Most of those grants are multi-year contracts that do not increase from year to year, with no room for wage growth or inflation. In ShelterCare’s case, they don’t take increasing rents into account, which is a huge line item in our budget. After a few years of this, social service staff get left behind.
To be clear, our local officials know and understand this situation, but their hands are tied when most local funds come through federal and state sources. This is an opportunity for all of us to advocate for appropriate wages for our social service staff, to our state and federal representatives.
The second reason nonprofit staff have such low pay in comparison to other types of businessess is culture and attitude. There’s the pervasive opinion that those who choose to provide care for others “knew what they were doing” and that they’d “never get rich.” No one is asking to get rich–they just want to pay their rent.
Nonprofit does NOT mean nonvalue. Imagine for just a moment if all of the services provided by all of the nonprofits in our community just disappeared overnight. No more ShelterCare, Red Cross, Mission, Boys and Girls Clubs, and so on. What would the quality of life be like? If you have concerns now about your neighborhood, what would you think if there were no CAHOOTS or St. Vincent de Paul?
The people who work for all of these agencies need to be recognized for the valuable treasures they are. I am in awe every time I see one of my team guide a program participant into getting their first apartment.
How can you help? As I mentioned before, advocate for appropriate, competitive wages for social service workers. Too many leave this high-stress field because they can’t afford to do the work they love. You can also donate to your favorite organization (I hope it’s ShelterCare) and avoid designating your gift so that we can put it into staffing costs.
Without our staff, there wouldn’t be programs to provide!
May is designated Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ve been reflecting on the personal experiences that have shaped my thinking about people with serious mental illness as well as the systems that have provided them care for the past 60 years.
These days, we have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, from housing and
medications to job training and case management. Across the U.S., Permanent Supportive Housing is recognized as best practice for people with serious mental illness who have struggled to maintain stable housing. It seems simple, doesn’t it, to give someone who lives with a mental health issue a stable place to live, combined with case management and other services?
However, it hasn’t always been that way.
I remember the night in 1959 when my scout troop rode a school bus to Mendocino State
Hospital on the outskirts of town to perform a Christmas pageant. We sang before a packed audience of patients with mental illness in an old auditorium. At the time, mental institutions were performing frontal lobotomies and placing patients in strait jackets, and the sight of patients with partially shaved heads and bound upper bodies was a frightening sight for eight-year-old girls. That field trip begged for some basic education about mental illness, as the process of deinstitutionalization had already begun.
A few years later, our Aunt M. came to live with my family after she was discharged from
Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, one of several she admitted herself to over her lifetime. My beautiful aunt with bright blue eyes and a porcelain complexion received a diagnosis of schizophrenia when she was 18 years old. At our house, she spent a lot of time in her room writing about her hallucinations, even while she endeared herself to we children with lots of hot cocoa and excursions to movie theaters and ice-skating rinks. After her final hospital stay, she lived in subsidized housing, with only a pair of eyeglasses and a change of clothes to her name. I’ve often wondered if she had ever received a visit from a case manager?
After Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967 to end the practice of
institutionalizing patients with mental illness against their will, the process of
deinstitutionalization began in earnest, occurring in tandem with a civil rights movement that deemed all people deserved the freedom to live in less restrictive environments. According to the Journal of Law and Health, the number of patients living in state hospitals dropped from 535,000 in the ’60s to 137,000 in the ’80s. But affordable housing also disappeared, and vast numbers of previously institutionalized individuals and those who might have been admitted to institutions ended up living on the street or in single room occupancy hotels and temporary shelters.
Court decisions that limited our mental institutions’ ability to confine people against their will may have preserved individual freedoms on paper and even prevented wrongful hospitalization at the front end, but the process didn’t give much attention to establishing preventative services and treatment programs. Funding for housing and community-based services was abysmal.
In 1974, I accepted a practicum assignment from DHS to facilitate a “socialization group” of five middle-aged women who had recently been discharged from Oregon State Hospital in Salem. They lived alone in apartments scattered around the community. Their transition from institutionalization to independent living was fraught with barriers, ranging from a lack of understanding on how to manage personal finances, schedule medical appointments and prepare nutritious meals. I kept track of them after our group disbanded and noted that all had died 10 to 15 years post discharge, before age 65.
On a field visit to Dammasch State Hospital with my undergraduate counseling cohort in 1975, I observed that that those patients left institutionalized were living in an environment like the one I had seen at Mendocino State Hospital 16 years earlier: Inside the sparsely furnished day room, patients crouched in corners, or carried on conversations with invisible others, or chewed on their fingers and hands until they bled. Had the system given up, failing to understand that their patients were human beings who might have accepted the chance to improve their outcomes?
The National Institutes of Health reports that 65 percent of those with serious mental illness recover fully or partially. Imagine what we could do with increased financial and human resources and accompanied by transparent community education to usher the process along?
Take my family member. After being chronically homeless for several years, she now lives in her own tidy apartment and is taking steps toward self-sufficiency, thanks to ShelterCare’s Permanent Supportive Housing program.
ShelterCare employs best practices, applying a low-barrier approach: The PSH staff understand that people who are struggling with serious mental illness, and substance and alcohol abuse, need stable housing first, before they can take significant steps toward recovery and healing. Like other PSH programs, ShelterCare pairs housing with case management and other support services.
Our current challenge rests in the fact that the U.S., and our own Lane County, do not have an adequate supply of affordable housing, which has created long wait lists. What’s more, ShelterCare and other agencies across the country are experiencing a dire shortage of qualified human service staff. While many find the work meaningful and rewarding, the pay generally isn’t enough to retain good employees long-term.
As caring citizens, we need to advocate for people who often can’t advocate for themselves, by attending public meetings and writing letters to legislators, by stating our opinions about the need for affordable housing and services for marginalized populations.
We need to educate private citizens in multiple forums, from City Council meetings to civic clubs and faith communities, about the barriers people with mental illness face—because a lock ’em up mentality continues to this day. Negative community attitudes are a longstanding, pervasive barrier to mental health, according to the National Library of Medicine.
At the same time, advocates and human service workers need to discuss the fact that we will always have populations for whom we can’t remove the barriers—that is, people who aren’t willing or able to take the steps necessary to lead functional lives—even while remaining hopeful that 66 percent will improve if they participate in their own care. Remember: People with serious mental illness can and do get well. But we need to do our part to make that happen.
I have been a board member of ShelterCare and a donor since 2017. When you think of an agency battling homelessness, the first picture in your mind may be of a homeless shelter or emergency housing. When I was invited to join the Board, I went on an extensive tour of ShelterCare’s programs. I was flabbergasted to understand how much ShelterCare does. ShelterCare provides a myriad of services, ranging from homelessness prevention and rental assistance to transition programs such as medical recuperation housing to permanent supported housing to meet the needs of the community. It layers a housing-first approach with extensive support including behavioral health services. Over the past year, I have seen how ShelterCare has adjusted its programs and developed new programs in partnership with other non-profits and government agencies to meet the evolving needs of the community.
As someone who has worked in health care finance for the past 30 years, I am keenly aware of the relationship between health, social determinants of health, and cost. Health problems, both physical and mental, can contribute to unstable housing, which in turn can lead to worsening health, creating a negative spiral in the lives of people experiencing homelessness. People with unstable housing are likely to suffer from worse chronic health conditions, and have lower access to regular care, resulting in greater use of inpatient and emergency services. Arizona has been providing Permanent Supported Housing to some of its Medicaid enrollees through a waiver with the federal government. They found a 31% reduction in emergency room visits and a 44% reduction in inpatient visits among transitioning members who were homeless or at risk of homelessness with health conditions into permanent supported housing AddressingHealthcareAndHousing_Infographic.pdf (azahcccs.gov) Addressing Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) can be more impactful than clinical interventions in many circumstances.
That is one of the many reasons why I am so committed to the Housing First model that ShelterCare espouses.
For people with chronic health conditions, housing is healthcare.
Investing in ShelterCare is investing in our community.
Hi. My name is Michelle; I am the CEO of ShelterCare.
And I live with mental illness.
There’s so much stigma associated with mental illness that when a person is diagnosed with some kind of disorder–assuming they are willing to reach out to get a diagnosis–it adds to the already existing trauma they are facing. With so many assumptions and myths about what a “mentally ill” person is (or isn’t) it’s no surprise that many of us don’t ask for help.
And yet, mental illness is treatable and those of us who have a diagnosis can lead very full, productive lives with proper care. That care may include regular therapy, medication, diet, or other lifestyle adjustments.
It isn’t that different from a person who suffers from diabetes and is treated through insulin, regular blood sugar checks, diet and exercise. Sometimes the person needs a little more attention, other times they have things pretty under control.
I have generalized anxiety disorder and atypical depression associated with chronic arthritis pain–though depending upon my doctor, one may cause the other. I’m usually on top of my anxiety/depression with a healthy diet, regular exercise and occasional sessions with a counselor. But sometimes that’s not enough. Stressors that can trigger anxiety attacks and cycles of depression can come along unexpectedly, and aren’t always predictable. And they might not be what you’d expect!
Those are the days and weeks I need a little more support, an extra therapy session, or a day off from work to recuperate.
No one feels ashamed of taking time to recover from an injury, illness, or disease, so they shouldn’t feel ashamed of taking care of their mental health either.
I’m lucky. I’m extremely lucky. Since I was a child, I have had a family that understands that mental health is as important as physical and dental health. I have a partner who recognizes the signs that my anxiety or depression are creeping up on me and helps me get support. Because of this support, I have been able to lead a pretty “normal” life, go to school, have stable relationships, and a challenging career.
Sadly, most people aren’t as lucky as me and that shouldn’t be acceptable. Too often, mental illness becomes a barrier to independence due to a lack of access to behavioral healthcare. Mental health becomes a barrier when a community devalues mental health, resulting in discrimination in access to housing, employment or education.
None of which is legal.
But it happens.
ShelterCare is known for its programs that provide housing, but what the public doesn’t know is that most people referred to our services are also dealing with some form of mental illness, which may be one root cause for them being unhoused. ShelterCare has a small in-house behavioral health program that provides services for those with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) who are or have been unhoused.
I share my story in an effort to break down the stigmas that exist around mental illness. The stigmas that our program participants and many others within our small community face. The more we talk about mental illness, the more we are able to normalize it and truly understand the needs and barriers of those who live with it.
If you or someone you love needs immediate help for a mental health crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for free 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also use the Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor who can provide support or information.