Mental health organizations reach out to Albany homeless shelters
Major Kelly English, Salvation Army
The Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville, which was closed Dec. 31, 2013
Kay Brooks, Albany Area Community Services Board CEO
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -
Behavioral health organizations are reaching out the Salvation Army and the Albany Rescue Mission after they've reported a spike in mentally ill homeless. Experts believe a severe winter could be behind an influx of mentally ill people coming to Albany.
Homeless shelters say they're not equipped to deal with people suffering from serious mental health problems, but have reported an increase mentally ill people filling their bunks each night.
"Quite honestly, we don't see that this issue is gonna dissipate anytime soon," said Major Kelly English, Salvation Army. "I can tell you it can be a bit taxing on staff," he said. "They're dealing with people who have mental challenges, there's training one has to go through to really work your way through different organizations."
The influx comes as region works through last year's closure of Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville. But there may be other reasons for an increase in the mentally ill migrating to the city.
"As you look across the country, we have had a pretty severe winter. So you're gonna see a relocation of a lot of the homeless population," said Kay Brooks, Albany Area Community Service Board CEO.
Brooks said the Albany Area CSB works with a homeless coalition to connect shelters to services for individuals in need, but challenges still lay ahead. "I think it's gonna take a couple more months of public education and stakeholder education and getting the word out that services are close," she said.
Relief organizations are still searching for ways to meet the need.
"If there was one reason then the resources or what have you could be directed that way," said English. "I wish I knew the answer, but I don't."
"What we have seen is an increase in the number of individuals we're serving. I truly believe because it is our services are more accessible," said Brooks.
She hopes to find ways get mentally ill people at shelters into proper treatment. "We also have a walk-in crisis center on 11th Avenue that we need to help connect if there are some more behavioral health issues in the shelters," Brooks said. "We need to make sure that a link to the navigation unit at 11th Ave that that is taking place."
She believes the Dougherty County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services center and local organizations throughout the region are part of a new form of treatment. "We do not provide all of our services at a site, our buildup has been providing services in the community," she said.
The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is shifting away from psychiatric hospitals toward community programs in an effort to improve treatment.
"We believe this model is the best way to serve our clients," said Frank W. Berry, Georgia Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner. "It allows us to provide supports and services in local communities with a focus on recovery. To this end, the department will spend more than $67.2 Million on community-based behavioral health services in southwest Georgia in its 2015 budget."
The Salvation Army agrees the community holds the key. "When people band together, that's where solutions really start to surface and it could be the catalyst for other folks to say, here, I know where the answer is," said Major English.
The shelter is hoping to partner with nearby organizations to meet the need. English said staff needs specialized resources to help those with mental challenges. "A simple car ride, a simple ‘here, lets go and get an ID,' let's just sit here and talk. That can go a long, long way toward recovery towards reconnecting to society," he said.
Joining hands, he said, will keep those in need from falling through the cracks.
The Albany Area Community Services Board says outpatient services are increasing, and they may require more staff and larger facilities to meet the need.
Brooks remains optimistic for the future of treatment for those with mental illnesses, offering more specialized care through community based programs. She said the Albany Area CSB plans to reach out to shelters and other organizations to improve treatment.
Those in need of mental health treatment or those with questions about nearby services can contact the Georgia Crisis and Access Line through www.behavioralhealthlink.com or at 1-800-715-4225. They can also call (229) 430-1842 or visit the Dougherty County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Center at 601 W. 11th Ave.