Cynthia Boyd’s Jan. 16 article, “Homeless for 25 years, finally a room of his own,” illustrates one of the most pressing problems facing those struggling with homelessness and mental-health issues.
People find the courage to face their demons and change their lives more often than most would guess. While Lorenzo Vasquez’s courage was rewarded with a stable, long-term foundation from which to move forward, the progress that many others make is often lost because they’re forced to return to the same unstable housing situation that precipitated their problems in the first place.
Imagine that you’re a young adult struggling with severe and persistent depression. You don’t like feeling the way that you do, and you find yourself relying on alcohol or drugs to help numb the pain. A few years down the road, you find yourself unemployed, addicted and homeless. You “couch hop” with friends for a while, but you can’t see a way out of your predicament on your own. You find the courage to seek help, and you find it in the form of an intensive residential treatment program where you begin your journey back to health.
While in this treatment program, you begin the medication and therapy needed to manage your depression in a healthy manner, and you kick your addition. You complete the treatment program determined to rebuild your life. You are discharged – and you are homeless once again.
What do you think the odds of maintaining your newfound sobriety and mental health are without a foundation, a home, upon which to build? The odds are, not surprisingly, pretty slim.
As CEO of People Incorporated Mental Health Services, the organization providing supportive services to Lorenzo Vasquez as well as several intensive residential treatment programs across the Twin Cities Metro, I find it very discouraging that success stories like Lorenzo’s are not as common as they should be. Our programs are seeing more and more individuals finish their journeys toward recovery only to be sent back out onto the streets.
This is nothing short of inhumane. The folks graduating from our programs have achieved big personal goals, which were quite a stretch for them. And the state has invested big money in making these opportunities available.
It’s encouraging to hear that the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness is looking for ways to foster better connections among the various public programs designed to help those in need to get back on their feet. But this disconnect is a huge systemic issue that won’t be easy to solve.
I hope that those working on the problem have the courage and conviction to consider the big disconnects as well as the smaller ones alluded to in the Boyd article. The acute shortage of supportive housing would be a great place to start.
M. Tim Burkett, Ph.D., L.P., is a licensed psychologist and CEO of People Incorporated Mental Health Services.
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