A safe haven for homeless people with addiction and mental health issues

A safe haven for homeless people with addiction and mental health issues

A long-awaited “shelter” will open by the end of the year to provide a residential treatment program for homeless people struggling with mental health issues and addictions, county and city of San Francisco officials announced Thursday. Diego.

The 11-room program will take place in the San Diego Veterans Village and will provide treatment to up to 22 people by staff members from San Diego Family Health Centers and Episcopal Community Services, which has field experience as an operator of the Uptown Safe Haven. , a residential facility that provides transitional housing and services to chronically homeless adults with mental health issues.

The small facility will target a homeless population typically considered the hardest to reach and is the first in the county connected to outreach services and a shelter specifically focused on helping people with addictions and mental health issues.

“We know what works,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said Thursday during a press conference and tour of the facilities. “Awareness, Shelter, Housing, Treatment and Prevention. We’re going to keep doing all of these things until we get back to where we want to be, which is not having more people living on the streets.

“Not everyone living on the streets in San Diego County is going through the same thing,” said Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Different types of solutions are needed and this program is one of them.”

The shelter is the latest effort in a partnership between San Diego County and the city to address chronic homelessness. The partnership began in June 2021 with the creation of Community Harm Reduction Teams (C-HRTs), an outreach effort focused on homeless people with addictions and mental health issues.

In December 2021, the partnership continued with the opening of a 44-bed C-HRT shelter on Sports Arena Boulevard, where San Diego Family Health Centers provide addiction counselling, peer support, mental health clinicians and nurse practitioners for a medical consultation.

Luke Bergmann, director of the county’s Department of Behavioral Health Services, described shelter as the third leg of a metaphorical three-legged stool that includes outreach and shelter. With all three in place, he said, efforts to help heal and house the chronically homeless should improve dramatically.

“This is a very difficult population to engage,” he said, noting that C-HRT outreach teams had about 1,000 contacts with people on the streets in an effort to bring them in. in the Sports Arena shelter. Establishing a relationship with one person sometimes took up to 50 contacts, he said.

The efforts have paid off and the shelter is at full capacity and had 209 clients as of Dec. 9, he said. Many of those clients, however, return to the streets or other shelters, and Bergmann said only about 10% have moved out of the shelter to permanent housing.

In the future, shelter guests may be offered a bed in the shelter, where there is no limit on how long they can stay.

“The shelter will really give people time to recover, to sort out the risk of relapse,” Bergmann said. “We know it’s very likely. We want a system that adapts to that and understands that.

The shelter is the first of three planned for other areas of the county, but no timing or location has been announced. County and city officials announced plans to open the first shelter more than a year ago, and Bergmann said it took some time to find a facility of the right size and location. .

“It’s very important that it feels like home, and it’s very important that the size is right,” he said. “It’s a bit of a ‘golden loop’ that we’re looking for. If it’s too big, we have people with important needs gathered in too many numbers, and if it’s too small, it’s not efficient.

Elizabeth Fitzsimons, CEO of Episcopal Community Services, said clients of the shelter her organization operates have gone from living on the streets to battling addiction, finding jobs and moving into a permanent accommodation.

“The shelter is a safe, secure home that feels like a home,” she said. “It’s where our clients eat together, bond with each other and staff, and follow their treatment plan on their journey to recovery and independence.

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