Mental Health Services to Open Emergency Shelter

by Joan Danes

Editor’s Note: Mental Health Services is planning to take over operation of the overflow shelter in the basement of the Welfare building-Project Heat Site D. They will move it to a better facility and convert it to an emergency shelter. The new shelter will be located at 17th and Payne and is currently under renovation. Latonya Murray is program manager for emergency services at Mental Health Services.

Homeless Grapevine: What is the new shelter going to be like and what services will it offer?

Latonya Murray: The new shelter will be operating in place of Site D of Project Heat and provide a bed, a place to sleep overnight, not a mat. There will be no direct services except staff will try to assess people for what their needs are. Staff will be licensed social workers, trained, and more sensitive to the people coming. They will calm people down when there are disturbances and maybe remove them from the situation if necessary without making them leave the shelter. Staff will hopefully be able to handle different situations.

Currently we operate an evening drop-in center and outreach programs during the day. We assess clients if they are not already involved in our programs. We help them to receive entitlements they need. We provide money management assistance; we run a payee program. We get them psychiatric follow-up services if they need them and follow-up medical services, and we find them housing. So there is the shelter program overnight and these other programs are day programs.

HG: Will you go over again how you provide outreach to people now?

LM: We provide mental health services and assist with a wide variety of disability services. We have an outreach program funded by the Department of Mental Health which targets mentally ill people who are on the streets, homeless, and resistant to services and are not linked to any other program. That’s the Path Program. We also have a program funded by HUD, a payee program for a wide variety of disabilities if homeless. We apply for entitlements and walk them through the process. If Social Security determines they need money management, we can become their payee. We help them find housing and follow up with them regarding maintaining their housing.

HG: What about the Money for Mailboxes Project?

LM: The agency used to be called that, but they stopped using it. The official title is now Mental Health Services for Homeless Persons. We are a third-person party payee for SSI and SSD. Social Security determines that the person can’t handle his money alone; if a person has a bad credit rating, then we can become the representative and budget their money for them. Our services can extend to helping them grocery shop or to getting them an apartment, which the landlord will accept if they know we are the payee. We would pay the utilities and the person would get a certain allotment of the money. We help them develop their skills or if unable to do these skills, we could link them to other services for ongoing support. This agency used to use this address for persons to get their check but now we don’t do that.

Bishop Cosgrove Center and West Side Catholic Center will let you use addresses where checks can be sent.

HG: How about help with housing?

LM: All of our mental health service programs work to help people get housing. Most of the programs focus on whether or not you have psychiatric disorders. As a stipulation in order to be funded in HUD we do outreach to people with a variety of disabilities and help them to find housing. Prior to that, if they have a verifiable disability and don’t have income, we help them get income. Third-party payee services can help them if they have a bad credit rating or need a payee in order to get an apartment. We have access to Shelter Plus Care for people with mental illness, access to all HUD housing, and slots for housing for the elderly and homeless. For the chronic homeless resident resistant to treatment we refer to Safe Haven housing, transitional housing, which is an eight-bed house on Broadway. Case management services are provided for seeing a psychiatrist regularly, taking medicine regularly, and learning daily living skills there, like cooking and other skills, to reacclimate them to living other than in a shelter or on the street.

HG: Regarding psychiatric services and other services in order to get help—what are the rules or stipulations?

LM: There are a lot of new medications on the market but none of the programs force them to take medicines. If the client is not willing, we work with them where they are. We are tolerant and encourage them. I don’t work with the psychiatrists directly, but I do know they try to give the lowest dose. Some people can benefit from medication. We want to help people be contributors to society. We are excited about the opportunity to operate a shelter, a better place where homeless persons will feel safe. We’ve encouraged our clients until now to go to the mission or VOA when they have been unhappy with the shelter and needed a place to stay. Our staff is excited because we have a place now to offer people to stay. And then we want to encourage them to move on and not have to remain homeless.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #38, October-November 1999