Augusta Health's mission—to promote the health and well-being of our community through access to excellent care—requires partnership and collaboration with other organizations within the community. Valley Mission in Staunton and Augusta Health have been partners in caring for those in the community experiencing homelessness for several years.
In the past year, the two have joined with several other partners—including the Department of Public Health and WARM Shelter in Waynesboro—in the Homeless Healthcare Connection, providing much-needed medical services to the homeless in our community. Since 2012, however, Augusta Health has supported Valley Mission by providing strategic funding to help to address mental health issues within the population of those experiencing homelessness.
"There is no stereotypical face of homelessness," explains Susan Richardson, MED, Executive Director of Valley Mission. "A few changes in circumstance can make anyone homeless. Many of our residents, though, are chronically homeless, meaning they have lived in various shelters for years. There are several factors that can contribute to chronic homelessness: lack of job skills, substance abuse issues, lack of family support and mental health issues for example."
While it's difficult to create data and statistics from a transient population, www.homelesshub.ca has found that people with mental illness experience homelessness for longer periods of time and have less contact with family and friends. In general, 30-35% of those experiencing homelessness and up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness have mental illnesses.
According to Richardson, in January of 2018, a 'point-in-time' count at the Valley Mission revealed 30% of the residents self-identified as having a serious mental illness, a substance abuse disorder or both.
"We realized that in order for our residents to move successfully into self-sufficiency, we needed to help each individual resolve the underlying issues contributing to their periods of homelessness. Our own experiences combined with the findings of the Community Health Needs Assessment indicated that Behavioral Health and access and affordability to that care were issues we needed to address," explains Richardson.
The problem was funding mental health programs at Valley Mission. Federal and state funding was not enough to cover even the operation of the facility, let alone an 'extra' program for mental health. So Augusta Health provided Valley Mission with a $25,000 for mental health services at Valley Mission.
With these funds, which Valley Mission has received for several consecutive years from Augusta Health, they've hired an in-house part-time licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who provides individual counseling sessions. The grant also helps with a contractual agreement Valley Mission has made with Valley Community Services Board (VCSB) for a PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) worker to serve on-site two days a week. The PATH program is for those with severe mental illness and functions as a liaison to CSB psychiatric services. The PATH program can work with anyone who is homeless in the VCSB area; clients do not have to be Valley Mission residents, but the office in the Valley Mission is a good place for all to connect.
"Quite simply and honestly, without this funding from Augusta Health, we would not be able to provide these mental health services at Valley Mission," says Richardson. "We would not be able to address one of the fundamental underlying issues to chronic homelessness. It means a great deal to Valley Mission, as an organization, and to the individuals who receive the services. It's life-changing for them."
Since January, 2019, the two programs have served 99 clients and provided 212 sessions, averaging 54 minutes each in length. In reviewing 2018 statistics, 92% of the clients served achieved at least one therapeutic goal.
And the ultimate goal of moving Valley Mission residents from the Mission into self-sufficiency?
Through the funding provided by Augusta Health for the social worker and PATH worker, seven individuals since January have moved into permanent supportive housing.
"The results are remarkable," adds Richardson.
To contact Valley Mission and learn about the programs and needs, call them at (540) 886-4673 or visit www.valleymission.net. To learn about the Homeless Healthcare Coalition or for information about Augusta Health's Community Outreach programs, call (540) 332-4190 or visit https://www.augustahealth.com/community-outreach.