Trevor Fenrich, the new executive director of Solutions Recovery, believes the percentage of people with mental health issues, or struggling with substance abuse is high among those experiencing homelessness. In a recent conversation, he acknowledged that it is difficult to know which ailment comes first, a mental health program or a substance abuse problem. It is not uncommon for someone dealing with a mental health issue, to try to self-medicate to better health. Conversely, someone with a substance abuse issue, often results with them also coping with mental health issues due to the abuse.
It was these two significant barriers to housing stability that drove the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation to fund a one year pilot program to address both of these health issues and their impact on homelessness in our community. There were specific initial goals for the project, with the hopes of seeing positive results, which would result in a longer-term commitment for services and funding from various community partners.
One unique goal and approach was the deliver professional services and counseling to participants where there were, taking services to them, rather than forcing them to find the professional help they needed which is the traditional model. Initially one on one sessions with professional counselors were offered at the Day by Day Warming Shelter, and group meetings at Solutions Recovery, delivering services where they were needed, in familiar environments. Over time, small groups began to form at Day by Day in informal settings, and became casual conversations with counselors onsite. Executive Director, Molly Yatso-Butz, states, “It’s been a tremendous help to have the professional counselors onsite not only for our guests, but also our staff, allowing them to focus on their regular duties.”
An additional goal was to increase the number of clinicians certified in both mental health and ADOA by two to three people by the end of the year. Since initiating the dual certification by year end 2021 they’re on track to have six full dually certified clinicians who will be available to work with clients.
The pilot program has achieved positive results to date, with an increased desire among participants in group sessions to now have more one-on-one sessions. The staff at Day by Day believes the group sessions are helpful, but that overall, the one-on-one sessions are more valuable. There is, however, plenty of positive feedback from clients themselves regarding the group sessions. Various comments include: It is a safe place.” “I can now address both my mental health and substance use. I have never been able to do that before.” One person added, “I like coming because it’s people like me.”
Yatso-Butz notes that the sessions whether one-on-one or in group settings are a positive resource for the guests with no pressure, or judgement from the counselors. The guests feel safe in their presence and it’s a touchpoint each week for the guests.
With the Foundation’s financial support, the mental health and substance abuse counselors are having a positive impact on the homeless population in the area. It is one of many steps being taken to address the issue.
If you would like to join in the fight to end homelessness, call our office at 920.426.3993 to explore opportunities to help.