Recently, a worried father called Tammy about his adult son. The son had a history of chronic mental illness and homelessness, and he often refused to engage with social services. The father asked what could be done.
Tammy is a member of Howard Center’s Street Outreach Team, a group of caring professionals who help people who have mental health issues connect with services and get the assistance they need. The team is best known for intervening when people experience crisis situations on Church Street or around town, but most of the team’s work is focused on helping people avoid crisis in the first place.
Tammy met with the son and found that he was living on the street because he had lost his wallet and was unable to access his bank account. His most immediate need was housing but he had severe anxiety and paranoia around going to a shelter. To help him feel more comfortable, Tammy accompanied him to COTS, a local shelter, and introduced him to the staff. Once he was settled in there, Tammy took him to Safe Harbor Clinic where he got medical care and other support, including help replacing his ID and debit card.
In another case, a man with severe mental health and substance use issues was eligible for a housing program but not enrolled. To enroll would mean filling out several applications, finding supporting documentation, and attending appointments, but his conditions left him too disorganized to do this on his own. Street Outreach helped him complete his paperwork and guided him through the enrollment process until he was safely housed.
Another call came from neighbors concerned about an elderly woman struggling to live independently. Although she has health issues that limit her mobility, she lives on the third floor of an apartment building with no elevator. She was not connected with any agency until neighbors called Hannah at Street Outreach. Hannah offered transportation to medical appointments and connected the woman with social service agencies that can help her move to a more suitable apartment.
Although immediate needs can usually be met quickly, team members often form long-term connections with people, enabling them to address deeper or ongoing issues. Eric accompanied police recently on a call to help woman who was distraught because she thought she was about to lose her housing. He contacted her property manager and resolved the situation, and he also stayed in touch with the woman who later identified mental health issues that she wanted to address, but she was reluctant to go to an assessment alone. Eric continued to check in with her and when she felt ready, he went with her to her assessment. Today, she is engaged in out-patient therapy.
The Street Outreach team quietly does this kind of work every day, helping people meet their immediate needs, connect with services, and overcome obstacles that could otherwise lead to much more serious situations. Sometimes the team assists a person in crisis on Church Street, though more often it responds to calls from worried parents or neighbors and reaches out with an offer of help.
The Community Health Investment Fund at the UVM Medical Center supports a wide range of community programs and initiatives that improve the health of our community. The fund is overseen by the Community Health Investment Committee, which is made up of both community members and hospital staff. We invest $800,000 annually in efforts that further the priority areas identified in the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment. To date, we have supported 23 programs at 19 organizations across our service area in our current fiscal year. The 2017-2019 priority areas are: Access to Healthy Food, Chronic Conditions, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Supportive Housing.