Projects for Assistance in Transitional from Homelessness
In Mississippi there are limited housing resources available to meet the affordable housing needs of the State’s low income disabled population and other priority populations. Evidence shows that most people with significant and complex disabilities can live successfully in integrated community settings with access to affordable housing and services suitable to their needs and preferences.
Our agency does homeless outreach through a grant provided through MS Dept of Mental Health that originates federally from SAMHSA. The grant is called PATH, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness. It is to work with people who experience homelessness and have serious mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders. The diversity of this group changes as people come to this area seeking warmer climates and jobs they believe are here. We have found that people think there is still an abundance of jobs due to Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill and the casino industry, which is not the case.
MHASM staff look for people walking down the sidewalks along Highway 90, the main highway running along the beach. They go into parks and the downtown areas, which are typically places homeless, are hanging around since it is shady and has benches to relax. There is a paved parking area under a main overpass in Biloxi that several people set up as their home; others live in the woods. Shopping areas seem to be a place where homeless people gather. Outreach staff connect with people in Wal-Mart parking lots, Edgewater and Crossroads Mall. These areas have restaurants on site, woods nearby and at times people shopping will give folks food. Staff go into all of these places looking for individuals who may be homeless and have mental illness.
People are constantly on the move as they go from one day center to get food, another to get a shower and wash clothes. Sleeping bags and tents are a highly requested item since there is not a night shelter in Harrison County. Our winters are not as severe as some areas of the country, but temperatures do get down into the 30’s quite often. We get a lot of rain and of course have a hurricane season from June to November. The summers are very hot and humid; being out in the weather can include dehydration and severe sunburn.
Outreach workers stop and ask people if they are new to the area or if they need help. They keep supplies in the car such as non-perishable food, sunscreen, bug spray, hygiene bags and bus passes. As the conversation progresses, they try to determine where the person typically hangs out during the day and where they lay their head to sleep. This gives the opportunity to keep the relationship going by knowing where to locate the person in the future and set up appointments to meet them again. Questions that are discussed include things such as medical conditions and history, housing history, their daily life experience over the past weeks and what they see for the future. Furthermore, any family or friends they may be able to connect with; job skills and employment history; what their immediate needs are and if they have documents necessary to obtain assistance with food, social security, jobs, and health care. A plan of action is set up to get people moving toward recovery with housing, health care, food and other resources to give them quality of life.
SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT SERVICES
MHASM also has a Supported Employment Specialist that works with the same population as PATH. Vocational assessment is an ongoing process with the search for jobs occurring quickly after program entry. Job options are based on the consumer’s preferences. The jobs are competitive jobs that have permanent status and are open to anyone. Jobs that are only available to people with a disability or through vocational rehab are not part of this program. If necessary the Supported Employment Specialist helps end jobs when appropriate and finds new job availability. Support is provided for as long as the person wants our assistance. Multiple contacts are done initially and continue at least monthly. Engagement ends when the person decides they no longer desire to be in the program.