Pauli Halstead: Nonprofits need help in helping homeless people | TheUnion.com

Pauli Halstead: Nonprofits need help in helping homeless people

Other Voices
Pauli Halstead

I learned a new word recently, "anosognosia." Did you know that up to 40 percent of those with bipolar disorder and approximately 50 percent of those with schizophrenia do not have the neurobiological insight to realize they are ill?

It is not psychological denial, it's biological. This is important to understand when we are trying to help chronically homeless people in our community. Many, but not all, do not recognize they are ill, thus do not seek treatment. If they ever do get into treatment it's going to take years of supported recovery.

The problem is, Nevada County Behavioral Health has an emphasis of treating people with "severe" mental health issues, and not moderate to mild. Whose responsibility is it, then, to care for the moderate to mildly impaired people remaining on the street? The county does no outreach to this population, which means there are a lot of moderate to mildly mentally ill and drug-addicted people camping, lighting fires and stealing to survive in Grass Valley and Nevada City.

When I agreed to manage Streicher House I did not understand the crisis we are facing.

All volunteers were serving out of the goodness of their hearts and a passion to help. It is the nonprofits who are filling the gap in mental health services for the county.

Imagine a large percentage of the people who came to Streicher House are suffering from moderate to mild mental illness, and also a few severe. Multiply that by several people a day, not to mention others who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or extreme stress, you have a situation that is very difficult to manage. There was no paid, professionally trained staff at Streicher House. All volunteers were serving out of the goodness of their hearts and a passion to help. It is the nonprofits who are filling the gap in mental health services for the county.

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We all know that many chronically homeless are also addicts or alcoholics. Substances like alcohol, meth, heroin, or toluene exacerbate mental illness. So now you have a dual diagnosis individual on the street needing services. Many cycle in and out of our county jail. At Streicher House we implemented a no possession of alcohol and drug policy and decided to eliminate certain individuals from our services who were the most difficult to manage. These people are still in our community.

I read recently that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. Connection is what we provided at Streicher House. People came to eat, relax, and talk about their life circumstances and the difficulties they were having. Just providing a space and people willing to listen is huge and is probably one of the most therapeutic protocols for healing mental illness.

Streicher House's success was due to the generosity of our wonderful volunteers, Diane, Sandi, Maria, Stormy, Tate, Amy, Katie, Robby, Dee, Robert, Makyla, Marceline, Lew, Patti, Colleen, Chris, Shirley, Tom and Mike. We couldn't have operated without the amazing donations from the Nevada City and Grass Valley community who provided warm clothing, bathroom supplies, and so many other needed items.

Streicher House had great cooks who created nutritious meals. During the summer we got donations of organic produce from local farms and the Nevada County Gleaners. Our food supplies came from the Food Bank and Interfaith Food Ministry. Being able to provide high quality, homemade food is extremely important to support mental and physical health. It is the basis of any mental health program.

Proper hygiene is so necessary for people who have no access to bathrooms, so Streicher House provided daily showers. Many of our guests said that being able to clean up, get fresh underwear and a change of clothes made them feel so much better. It was very gratifying to see them leave the house with a full belly and looking all spiffy. This made it possible for some to get jobs.

Nonprofits are best at providing comfort, social interaction possibilities, food, clothing, and supplies. However, they do not have the funding necessary to sustain a facility plus pay for professionally trained staff. Only county government will be able to provide emergency shelter, mental health care, and low-income housing for all its citizens in need.

People need a "place" to obtain food, shelter, and mental health help every day of the year. The Board of Supervisors put a 24/7 emergency shelter at the top of this year's agenda. It needs to become a reality sooner than later. In the meantime, nonprofits continue to fill the gaps in county services as best they can because people need help now and not at some future time.

Pauli Halstead lives in Nevada City.

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