Peer support drives 'Homeless Hub' in Philadelphia

January 19, 2012
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Peer support drives 'Homeless Hub' in Philadelphia

Individuals who have been homeless are staffing a "homeless hub" launched by two nonprofit agencies (along with other healthcare and social service providers) with the support of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS).  The Hub of Hope, in a Suburban Station concourse storefront, serves homeless individuals who have been reluctant to make use of services.

The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP) worked with Project H.O.M.E. to create and staff the storefront office, which was launched on Jan. 3 and will be open until April.

"We were approached by DBH to come up with creative ways to do better on behalf of the people who had been living in the concourse," said Michael Brody, MHASP's director of Service Operations. MHASP interviewed some 20 formerly homeless individuals and "one of the things that came out in these focus groups was people who were formerly homeless talking about how helpful it was to receive help from people who [have] had similar experiences," Brody said.

The majority of MHASP staff members are in recovery from serious mental health conditions, including some staffers who have been homeless. "What we're bringing to this project is employing three recovery coaches who are Certified Peer Specialists"—individuals in recovery who have been trained to help others work toward recovery—"to do outreach to and follow up with people who make use of the Hub of Hope," Brody said.

The recovery coaches are working with the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP) and with the Project H.O.M.E. housing coordinator, and play a major role in ensuring that people who come to the Hub are welcomed, he added.

"Peer support staff are working to build trust and relationships with people entering the Hub, and ensuring they are getting connected," said MHASP outreach advocate Johnathan Evans, himself formerly homeless, who supervises the recovery coaches. "They are helping to walk people through the process of having their medical and psychiatric needs met." 

"People are coming in on a daily basis and really making use of this added service," Evans noted. At this writing, 95 individuals have already been served. "The certified peer specialist team has been welcoming people into the Hub and reaching out to them in the concourse. They are introducing them to representatives of the Behavioral Health Special Initiative [which provides assessments, referrals and funding support for persons who are uninsured or underinsured with substance abuse problems] and walking them over to Mary Howard Health Center." 

The Hub is open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday. "People we encounter in the evening will be given an appointment to come in the morning to link with a recovery coach," Brody continued. "The recovery coach will be doing outreach to find those folks to bring them back to get them linked with services."

MHASP will also offer psychiatric services one evening a week.

"It has been a wonderful collaboration with Project H.O.M.E. and a number of other homeless service providers," Brody said, "and we appreciate the support of the Department of Behavioral Health."

Marcella Maguire, PhD, director of DBH Homeless Services, said that DBH welcomes what MHASP brings to the table. "DBH is excited to have MHASP bring its peer outreach services to persons who have severe mental illnesses and are experiencing homelessness. The City has been successful in helping hundreds leave homelessness, but we know that a small group remains on the street despite our best efforts. MHASP has always been committed to trying new models to assist those most in need, and we hope that this novel use of Certified Peer Specialists will assist many more in leaving homelessness and engaging more fully in their recovery."

The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP) is a nonprofit corporation that creates opportunities for individuals and family members to effectively respond to the challenges of mental health conditions through its work in five domains:  advocacy, direct support to individuals, training and education, information and referral, and technical assistance.

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