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Every Wednesday from 1-3 pm, individuals trickle into the small waiting room at Lyn Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness’s Lyndale Ave and Lake St. location.  Some of them have forms in their hands that require a signature.  Some of them are there just to talk to someone.

The difference between these clients and others who show up in Lyn Lake’s waiting room is that these individuals have no appointment.  They come in to make use of Lyn Lake’s free drop-in program.  And the therapists that work with them are taking time out of their day to do so on a volunteer basis.  Since November 2018, when the drop-in program began, Lyn Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness has served 81 people.

“We are trying to create low barrier access to good quality mental health care” states Jade Erickson, a therapist at Lyn Lake and the founder of the drop-in program.  There are many forms and barriers to accessing health insurance, good health care and housing.  We wanted to have a program where those who do not have insurance or who have difficulty getting to structured appointments can have a good experience in seeking mental health assistance and to have help accessing housing, Jade explains.

Many individuals that utilize the drop-in program are seeking housing or hoping to stay in subsidized housing.  In order to get funds for housing and living expenses, required forms need to be filled out and signed by a licensed health professional.  Lyn Lake makes it easy for those seeking services to jump through the hoops and complete the necessary forms.

However, not all that use the drop-in services are experiencing homelessness.  Many people come who are uninsured, or who just need someone to talk to.  Volunteers at Lyn Lake will provide brief therapy and often many of these people will continue as long-term clients.

Research has shown that having a positive experience with a healthcare clinic will result in a higher likelihood of that person accessing care in the future and increased positive outcomes. And because there are often barriers to getting help, many individuals without permanent housing and who have chronic psychiatric and/or physical conditions, have a tough time getting the help that they need.   Many times, people need an address to get a job, apply for health insurance and to gain access to healthcare.

Homelessness in Minnesota has been on the rise with a 10% increase since 2015.

In 2018, Wilder conducted over 4,000 interviews with adults and unaccompanied youth in temporary shelters and non-shelter locations such as encampments, and other drop in services.  Following are a summary of the findings.

  • “More of the homeless population are living outside of formal shelters.
  • African Americans, American Indians and youth who identify as LGBTQ are over-represented amount the homeless population.
  • Nearly 30% are employed
  • The majority have a chronic mental or physical condition.
  • Homelessness is often associated with adverse childhood conditions.
  • Violence and abuse often continue over the lifetime especially among women who experience homelessness.
  • And the availability of affordable housing is a critical issue.”

When I asked whether the basic mission for the program was connected to helping these clients become more self-sufficient, Jade corrected me and said, self sufficiency was a subjective term.  No one can determine what that means for someone else.  The drop-in clinic was created because “housing and healthcare are basic human rights,” adds Jade.  The drop-in program reflects this underlying mission by creating low/no barriers to assist individuals who are experiencing homelessness with the process of getting housing. Affordable housing is at such a crisis that many cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul are forming long term plans to address this issue.  Studies have shown that housing is integral to positive outcomes in health and mortality for this population.

“We all walk around and we forget that everyone has their own journey”, Jade explains.  It is so easy for many of us to shove the issue of homelessness aside because many of these individuals live in the shadow of our awareness: we often do not have direct connection to individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

Even our language describing the challenges they face can be problematic.  For example, I was gently corrected when I used the term, “the homeless” instead of “people who are experiencing homelessness”: an important difference in language if you think about it.  One where the former labels those individuals as if their housing situation is their whole identity compared to a temporary challenge they are experiencing.  They, of course, are human beings first.  And through the lens of viewing each person as unique individuals, they have their own stories.

Resources

  1. HousingLink-https://www.housinglink.org/
  2. Minnesota Department of Human Services-https://mn.gov/dhs/partners-and-providers/program-overviews/housing-and-homelessness/
  3. Community Emergency Assistance Program-http://www.ceap.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CEAP-Resources-Homelessness.pdf
  4. Hennepin County: Coordinated Entry Homeless Assistance-https://www.hennepin.us/coordinated-entry
  5. Adult Shelter Connect-https://www.simpsonhousing.org/adult-shelter-connect-simpson-shelter/

Articles

  1. “A Systematic Review of Evidence on the Links Between Patient Experience and Clinical Safety and Effectiveness”. Doyle, Cathal, Lennox, Laura, Bell, Derek. BMJ Open Journal Vol 3 Issue 1 (2013). https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/1/e001570
  2. Wilder Research-Minnesota Homeless Study 2018. http://mnhomeless.org/minnesota-homeless-study/homelessness-in-minnesota.php
  3. “Characteristics and Trends Among Minnesota’s Homeless Population: Initial Findings from Face-to-Face Interviews Conducted in 2018. http://mnhomeless.org/minnesota-homeless-study/reports-and-fact-sheets/2018/2018-homeless-characteristics-fact-sheet-5-19.pdf
  4. “How Health and Homelessness are Connected-Medically” Hayashi, Seiji. The Atlantic Monthly. (Jan. 25 2016). https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/how-health-and-homelessness-are-connectedmedically/458871/