The State of Local Mental Health and Its Effect on Homelessness

Mental Health Awareness June 14

The State of Local Mental Health and Its Effect on Homelessness


On June 17, 2014, local city and county leaders, health care providers, community volunteers and students met at The United Way of Greater Houston for a panel discussion entitles “The State of Local Mental Health and Its Effect on Homelessness.” Micah, Hirschfield, moderator and TWH board member, opened the panel discussion onto a full house. Panelists included (above, from left) Laurie Glaze, Executive Director of Texas One Voice: A Collaborative for Health and Human Services, Eva Thibadeau-Graczyk, Director of Programs for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, and Marc Eichenbaum, Deputy Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives.

Many who attended that night were donors and volunteers of The Women’s Home wanting to know how to become more informed and involved in the issues facing our clients. Also attending the presentation were students from Rice, Baylor and the University of Houston, passionate about learning to identify solutions to this important social problem. Also present were care providers interested in learning more to assist their clients. In addition, representatives from the county and city agencies were there to support and interact with attendees.

There was a frank discussion of the dismal per capita mental health spending levels in Texas (Texas ranks 49th in the nation in spending, an average of only $39 per citizen), which leaves communities ill-equipped to meet the need for behavioral health services, most especially for those who are homeless. Houston currently has over 1,700 adults waiting for mental health services that simply do not exist. As a result, many of these unstable individuals are seen, at great cost to taxpayers, at the psychiatric hospitals and, unfortunately, the county jail — the state’s largest mental health care provider. This is often called “back and spending”, money that gets spent after lives have spiraled completely out of control.

However, hope was offered in the examination of the Mayor’s initiative to end chronic homelessness.  The model being embraced is that of permanent supportive housing, housing that is offered without barriers to those that need it most.  The idea is a best practice whose time has come here in Houston.  The city, county, housing authority and mayor’s office have exhibited unprecedented cooperation in identifying and placing chronically homeless individuals through a coordinated access program designed by the Coalition For the Homeless.  First targeted were veterans and the most visible of homeless in downtown.  Already, the rates of homelessness are receding with this concentration of effort.

The Home stays abreast of these trends and works with all of the agencies and offices representated on the panel.  Our own Jane Cizik Garden Place is a model of housing and services that truly leads the way in our community to solutions to this multi-layered effort.  We were proud to present some of the bigger issues we face in delivering the services so desperately needed in Houston.

WholeLife℠ Feature – TWH’s New Treatment and Transitional Program Class – “Courage to Search”

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The growing efforts of The Women’s Home are all tied together by our comprehensive and very effective WholeLifemodel, which addresses the emotional/mental, physical, social, spiritual, vocational, and financial wellness of our clients and residents.

This week, ten residents of The Women’s Home Treatment and Transitional program began a journey in a new class aptly titled “Courage to Search.” They were greeted at the lunchtime gathering with a beautiful new journal and a panel of six enthusiastic and gifted volunteers, ready to guide their exploration over the next eight weeks of spiritual exploration. The clinical staff and community outreach team at The Home has worked closely with The Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center to develop this unique program. Under the guidance of Institute Vice President Stuart Nelson, our group will utilize an evidence-based questionnaire that will be the basis for group interaction on topics including: life review, relationships, present values and decision-making. Stuart and an academic colleague formulated the questionnaire into what they call a “Meaning Systems Interview,” to encourage open-ended exploration and dialogue within the group, and also involves individual contemplation outside the group. In addition, the program will include a field trip to various sacred sites in the city.

In addition to Stuart, an impressive array of volunteers has stepped up to shape the creation of this additional offering to the residents. Alden Clark, Ann Lister, Angela Caughlin, Janet Vucinich, and Jo Reid have all worked diligently to prepare the curriculum. They will also serve as facilitators over the coming weeks. Their combined experiences and education include everything from feminist liberation theology, expression through creative writing, clinical therapy and personal growth through spiritual exploration.

Manager of Clinical Services, Emily Kemper, later told the volunteers, “I noticed that the clients responded positively, and in a way that allowed them to be vulnerable as a response to some of your personal sharing. What I thought might not happen did happen…your vulnerability touched their stories, and they were able to share them. I suspect that this will continue to happen, and that the similarities of your collective stories will open up the conversations, as…an ease and comfort that I have already seen from just one session.”

There is much evidence that recovery from addictions is not realized without a major spiritual birth or transformation in an individual who has lost the coping skills needed to “live life on life’s terms” because chemical substances have hijacked their ability to access rational and hope-filled thought. This is often described as faith in a “higher power”. Here at The Home, we look for creative ways to encourage the daily practice of spirituality through silent contemplation, affirmations, yoga, meditation, and sharing in community. Healing is greatly influenced and fueled through faith, shared experiences, and hope.

Providing spiritual care without a bias to a particular faith is often a very tricky path. But, for those that feel “spiritually bankrupt” or who have been unable to deepen their own personal perspective, it is imperative to start somewhere in the quest. In the short term, it is believed that the addition of this new class will result in learning about introspection, awareness of different systems of meaning, increased awareness of motivations, opinions and aspirations, and the increased familiarity with spiritual resources and sites around our diverse city.

In the long term, we believe that our residents’ behavior will be positively impacted by a healthier sense of spirituality, increased engagement within the community, and by gaining a personal spiritual “home” – once they exercise the courage to search.