May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and Catholic Charities is proud to have a program focused exclusively on providing care for people experiencing homelessness who are also navigating mental health concerns. The Housing-Focused Behavioral Health Support Team (HBST) is a small-but-mighty team who have been advocating for guests who access the emergency services offered on our Dorothy Day Campus in St. Paul.
HBST Program Manager Kaitlin Voight-Fitzpatrick didn’t always have a full team supporting the clinical behavioral health work she was facilitating on the Dorothy Day Campus. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, it did not take long for Kaitlin to understand that the need for mental health services, paired with a lack of community support services, was beyond what she could provide individually. So, in 2021, Catholic Charities’ emergency services team reassessed and reallocated funds to expand her role and create the Housing-Focused Behavioral Health Support Team.
Today, the HBST consists of Case Managers Ronnell Nadeau and Michael Kaup, and Sarah DeGroot, mental health professional. Together, the team provides direct outreach to guests accessing emergency services at Higher Ground Shelter and the Opportunity Center in St. Paul. Members of the HBST emphasize the importance of the program being fully client-driven, meaning that clients can determine which services they want and the level at which they want them. Case management services can range from securing medical assistance, arranging transportation to appointments (medical, psychiatric, housing, etc…), referrals to chemical dependency treatment, and, primarily, helping to secure safe and stable housing.
Michael describes his journey to Catholic Charities as “curious.” He has a master’s degree in Religious Studies, Sanskrit & Tibetan texts, with an emphasis in Indian epistemology, but most recently was a Minnesota State employee providing disability assessments. Having also worked with homeless services in New York City, Michael noted the special challenges of working with claimants who were experiencing homelessness. His empathetic, calming nature shines through regardless of the circumstance—so it’s not difficult to understand why he’s found himself in a role requiring equal parts curiosity and compassion.
The work is not easy. The range of approaches that the HBST must employ to meet clients’ needs is vast—but necessarily so. The process of building a relationship with someone who has been burned or abandoned by system after system is time-consuming and requires consistency and being genuinely willing to sit down with someone and simply exist with one another. Michael indicates that it may take 6-9 months of working with someone to see a meaningful shift, and even then, the rate of progress varies for each individual.
As we consider National Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important not only to recognize and celebrate the work of the HBST, but also to educate ourselves about mental health and the dangers of stigmas surrounding diagnosis and treatment. National organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are a great place to start, and locally, the HBST collaborates with RADIAS Health and People Incorporated.