Every day, Father Joe’s Villages’ staff encourage mental health awareness within the community, but our efforts are even more critical during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental Health Matters

Each May, mental health service providers across the country team up for Mental Health Awareness Month. Every day, Father Joe’s Villages’ staff encourages mental health awareness within the community, but our efforts are even more critical during Mental Health Awareness Month.

How can we prevent homelessness?

There are many methods in which together, as a society, we can prevent people from ever having to experience homelessness.

First, we can work to create a more equitable society where some groups of people do not experience extreme levels of poverty and all people have access to housing they can afford and job opportunities with adequate pay. 

This enables families and individuals to be able to fund the housing, food, and other basic necessities they need to survive, as well as additional room in the budget to save for emergencies.

Secondly, we can create a safety net for individuals and families who do find themselves at risk of homelessness by providing temporary support through diversion, financial assistance, counseling or other services that prevent individuals and families from entering into homelessness

Preventing Homelessness Once Individual/Family Falls into Risk of Homelessness

Homeless Prevention

As evident in the name, homeless prevention works with people before they lose housing.

It is an approach to solving possible homelessness by empowering a person to identify safe, immediate, and appropriate alternatives to entering the homeless services system, such as shelters. 

An organization helping with diversion will work alongside a person or to family brainstorm possible solutions to the issue(s) threatening their housing stability, with an emphasis on trusting the person to be an expert in their own solution as they regain control over their housing crisis.

Homeless Prevention strategies range from connecting a neighbor to rental support available in the community, helping a neighbor apply for social support like disability, medicare, or food stamps to help them meet their budgetary needs, or helping them connect with family or friends who can provide them a place to stay while they back on their feet.

Sometimes an organization works with a landlord to ensure that a neighbor can stay where they are currently residing, to work through any issues that could result in eviction, or organize a payment plan for repayment of missed rent. 

The organization can then act as a mediator to develop a resolution that will allow the household to stay in their current housing. The goal of diversion is the lightest touch possible so community resources are available to those who need them most.

Homeless prevention is often a preferable approach to immediately placing someone in a shelter because it can be more cost-effective, it can ensure necessary shelter beds are available for those who need them most, but most of all, it prevents an individual or family from experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

Employment & Education Services

Job readiness training and job-seeking support offered to people at risk of homelessness can help neighbors achieve higher wages and higher quality jobs.

When a person is working one or two minimum wage jobs, they often have little leftover in the monthly budget (after rent, food, utilities) for emergencies or rental increases. 

That’s why employment services can be a critical tool for helping people compete in the modern job market and obtain jobs that pay above minimum wage.

People experiencing poverty and homelessness can encounter a number of factors that can prevent them from gaining quality employment including ​​limited education and skills, varied job histories, misplaced legal documents, limited access to transportation, cosmetic difficulties, such as missing teeth, and physical and behavioral health conditions.

According to San Diego’s Point-in-Time count report (2018), 30% of individuals polled reported a loss of job as the primary cause of homelessness.  

Through hands-on training, education, and job development, employment programs, such as Father Joe’s Villages Employment & Education Center, foster empowerment and provide tools for facing the complicated, competitive world of employment.

Preventing Homelessness by Creating Housing

There are thousands of organizations across the world implementing solutions to alleviate poverty and inequality.

At Father Joe’s Villages, we help to reduce and prevent extreme poverty by working to expand affordable and supportive housing opportunities in our community.

Affordable Housing

Housing becomes less affordable when the housing supply cannot keep up with the demand for housing in a region.

When housing becomes less affordable, the budgets of low-income families and individuals are squeezed, leaving little room for anything but survival. In fact, half of all San Diego homeowners don’t make enough money to meet the region’s cost of living, with 60% of local renters falling short by thousands of dollars per year.  

By building more affordable housing in the community, organizations help to reduce the pressure on low-income neighbors and provide more affordable options for those that need it most.

Affordable housing enables folks to maintain housing long-term because the housing stays within a price range that is proportional to their income bracket.

Through the Turning the Key initiative, Father Joe’s Villages committed to adding 2,000 units of affordable housing dedicated to neighbors overcoming homelessness, on top of the over 400 affordable units already offered by the organization. Learn more here.

Supportive Housing

Supportive Housing, sometimes referred to as Permanent Supportive Housing, is housing that is reserved for people with a physical disability, mental illness or long-term substance use disorder who need regular support to maintain housing stability. 

While Supportive Housing is provided to people who have been homeless, this type of program prevents ongoing and future homelessness for at-risk individuals with a history of chronic homelessness.

Residents of supportive housing communities receive a long-term rental subsidy that is sensitive to their income and ongoing support services to help them maintain their housing. 

At Father Joe’s Villages, for example, Case Managers help clients set and achieve goals and get connected to resources, while Tenant Services Coordinators teach life skills and host social activities that build community.

A Registered Nurse provides wound care, patient education, and medication management. 

Supportive housing is a compassionate and dignified solution to homelessness for people who would otherwise struggle to maintain housing on their own. Often, supportive housing is the best solution for addressing or preventing chronic homelessness amongst people with severe mental illness and debilitating disabilities.

However, communities often don’t have the resources to provide supportive housing to all the individuals who may benefit from it.

For that reason, building and raising funding for new supportive housing communities can be critical for preventing homelessness for people most in need.

In Conclusion

Homelessness prevention programs and associated initiatives are often a cost-effective and compassionate approach to preventing individuals and families from living without shelter on the streets and entering into the cycle of homelessness.

What is Mental Illness?

Prevalance of Mental Illness by Diagnosis
Source: https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a mental illness is defined in two ways:

  • Any Mental Illness (AMI)– defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment.
  • Serious Mental Illness (SMI)– defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI.

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) estimates that at least 1 in 5 Americans are affected by mental illness every year. That means almost 20% of people will experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives.

For those who are homeless or living on minimum wage, this rate goes up substantially. A 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that 45% of people who are homeless in the United States have a mental illness.

At Father Joe’s Villages, 26% of adults served in Interim or Transitional Housing in 2019 reported having a long-term physical or mental health disability.

What are the Challenges of Living with Mental Health?

Adults Experiencing Mental Illness in a Given Year
Source: https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

Living with a mental health condition makes everyday tasks—like going to work, spending time with friends, and getting out of bed in the morning—more difficult. Homelessness and the stress that comes along with it only exacerbate those challenges.

For our neighbors living on the streets, the stress that comes with homelessness can both manifest and exacerbate mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. These conditions can make everyday tasks overwhelming, and achieving a better life seems like an unreachable dream. 

However, proper tools and support can help individuals living with a mental health condition live healthy and self-sufficient lives. Specialized programs, such as the Behavioral Health, Substance-Use Disorder Treatment, and Psychiatric mental health services offered through our Village Health Center in San Diego, can help provide the resources individuals need to manage their mental health symptoms instead of having their symptoms manage them.

With the right therapy and professional help, the results can be powerful. As one of our Licensed Behavioral Health Clinicians recounted:

“A man once told me that after participating in weekly therapy sessions, gaining insight into his mental health symptoms and learning coping skills to better manage those symptoms, he was able to take public transportation for the first time in years and he was able to think about a better future which he hoped would include employment.”

What are the Benefits of Mental Health Awareness Month?

Mental health is a topic that people tend to avoid.

Many don’t want to talk about it because they’re ashamed of having mental health issues, or they fear being judged by others. But the fact of the matter is that struggling with mental health symptoms is actually quite common—especially for people experiencing poverty and homelessness.

Mental health awareness not only encourages compassion and empathy within the community, but it can also help those struggling with mental illness understand that they are valuable and that help is available to them.

The fact is: no one chooses to live with a mental health condition. The important thing is that we understand that mental illness is a disease and that individuals struggling with mental health conditions can receive care and support. Mental Health Month reminds us to advocate for people living with mental health conditions and express to those who are struggling most that they are not alone.

Behavioral Health Clinician, Brandon, highlights this particular benefit of awareness:

“People readily obtain care for physical ailments such as diabetes or cancer but feel shame around seeking help for illnesses such as depression or anxiety, even though these disorders also have physiological underpinnings. Building awareness for mental health can combat this stigma and help people understand that mental illness is no one’s fault nor is it a sign of character weakness. It is my hope that seeking treatment for mental illness will someday be viewed as a source of strength within our culture rather than a source of shame.”

Mental health awareness allows all of San Diego to thrive by fostering each individual’s ability to have healthy relationships, contribute to the community, and participate in a productive community.

How Does Father Joe’s Villages Help People with Mental Health Conditions?

Mental Illness Treatment in America
Source: https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

At Father Joe’s Villages, we believe that people who are experiencing homelessness and living with mental health challenges deserve dignity and access to care. That’s why we offer specialized programs through our Village Health Center that provide the resources individuals need to manage their mental health symptoms.

In 2021, the Village Health Center delivered nearly 5,000 behavioral health services including: 

  • Individual and group therapy 
  • Substance-use disorder treatment 
  • Medication assisted treatment 
  • Psychiatric services

The behavioral health programs offered through the Village Health Center provide people who are experiencing homelessness and mental health conditions the resources they need to live happy, self-sufficient lives.

What You Can Do During Mental Health Awareness Month?

  • Open up dialogues with family, friends, and co-workers
  • Advocate for mental health awareness
  • Speak up against discrimination of people living with mental illness
  • Donate time or money to an organization supporting behavioral health
  • Extend an open ear, hand, and heart to those experiencing mental illness
  • Learn more about mental health in the U.S.
  • Support organizations that offer mental health resources
  • Prioritize your mental health and wellness
    • Sleep well nightly
    • Have a nutrient-rich diet
    • Reduce your consumption of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol
    • Exercise
    • Mindfulness
    • Have “me-time” or add self-care to your schedule
    • Doing things you enjoy

Bottom Line on Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Month may come only once a year, but for people who live with difficult mental health symptoms or love people struggling with mental illness, Mental Health Awareness Month is every month.

To lighten the load for those who already may have too much to carry, consider donating your time, money, and political voice to dismantle the stigma around mental health.