Homelessness and Mental Health

The Catholic Charities Housing-Focused Behavioral Health Support Team (HBST) advocates for guests who access the emergency services offered on our Dorothy Day Campus in St. Paul. After spending some time with HBST Case Manager Michael Kaup, here are 3 things we learned:

1. Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health

While not always as apparent as fingers blackened by frostbite, mental health challenges can manifest in crippling ways—especially for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Kaup emphasizes the need for empathetic, person-centered care:

“Physical pain, stress, and anxiety all relate to mental health. We are not two things; we are one organic whole. Even when mental health symptoms are really acute, [someone accessing emergency services] might not want to talk about them. Maybe that person doesn’t feel comfortable, doesn’t feel safe. Maybe they’ve had forced hospitalizations or other traumatic experiences in the past related to mental health care.”

 

2. Addressing mental health opens the door to greater progress

The HBST program is fully client-driven, meaning that clients can determine which services they want and the level at which they want them. Case management services include securing benefits such as medical assistance, arranging transportation to appointments, referrals to chemical dependency treatment, and eventually helping to secure stable housing. All these services interrelate, and it’s common to see progress in other areas once people start feeling mentally and physically healthier.

“After addressing mental health issues, and day-to-day needs [like eating regularly and getting enough sleep], it becomes possible to carry forward longer term plans, and identify any kind of immediate support that is needed for an individual to achieve their goals.”

 

3. We need to keep working to make mental health support accessible to all

Accessing support isn’t easy even when you have resources like housing and transportation—so program locations, like Catholic Charities’ St. Paul Opportunity Center, that offer a range of mental health services in partnership with community organizations like Radius Health and People Incorporated are essential for creating a healthier community.

“I recall one client who was especially quiet, the vulnerability or kind of the extremeness of his own situation was obvious and it turned into non-engagement with things or other people here. However, slowly but steadily, they began to share more and open up more. This client eventually shared, ‘I really, really, appreciate being here and I feel like the people here are like me and I feel like they get me—I feel comfortable here’.”

 

SO WHAT CAN COMMUNITY MEMBERS DO TO HELP?

Addressing our current homelessness crisis requires all of us working together to:

Support Our Neighbors Currently Experiencing Homelessness

Create Systems that Allow People to More Easily Attain & Sustain Stable Housing

Thank you for your interest — together we can create a better future for all Minnesotans!

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