A homeless response pilot program that was developed through a collaborative effort of local mental health, government and business officials will begin Monday in downtown Mansfield. The announcement was made Thursday as the Richland County commissioners proclaimed May as “Mental Health Month” with the theme of “Local Help for Local Hope.”
The program calls for a clinician from Catalyst Life Services to partner with a law enforcement officer from the Mansfield Police Department, who will spend 12 hours per week in three, four-hour shifts doing outreach and interaction with the local homeless population.
According to Joe Trolian, executive director of the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, contacts will be made not only in locations on the streets where homeless gather but also at stationary sites such as Harmony House, City Church, the feeding center on Bowman Street and other locations that are providing assistance.
“One of the biggest things I’ve seen with most of these programs around the state is there are a whole lot of people like us making decisions about what people need and not a whole lot of sitting down with individuals and talking and saying ‘What do you need?’” Trolian told commissioners. “We’re hoping that’s what this team is going to do. They’re going to interact with people.”
Trolian said the program is sending out highly-trained staffers who will be able to help people “in crisis” and do a crisis intervention on site if a person can’t get to an urgent care.
He said officials have known for decades that the area has a transient population of homeless people who are here for the “pleasant” months and find other locations for the less pleasant months.
“They may not be seeking a whole lot of assistance, but we have seen a significant increase in numbers — people who are homeless, low-income or jobless,” Trolian said. “We’ve got lots of resources in this county, and it’s a matter of getting people directed to those resources and helping them get access to those resources.
Catalyst Executive Director Erin Schaefer said staff members going out with the program are experienced in assessment for issues such as substance abuse, mental health issues and other aspects of what is going on in an individual’s life.
Housing is an issue
Harmony House Executive Director Kelley Blankenship said the homeless shelter on West Third Street in Mansfield currently is involved in what she called a “sad” case involving a single man who had been waiting to get a room at the facility because it is constantly full and turning over beds as they become available.
“He’s got Parkinson’s and some other major illnesses including cancer and he has an 11-year-old autistic son whose mother is recently deceased as well,” she said. “It’s a heartbreaking case that we have and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with them because they recently came to the shelter.”
Rebecca Owens, regional director of Catholic Charities in Mansfield, said the agency helps with rent and has received funds from the Department of Job and Family Services to for housing vouchers. It also has a food pantry, medical assistance and prescription assistance and will work with individuals to come up with a plan to be on a road to sustainability.
Fifth Ward Mansfield City Councilman Aurelio Diaz said downtown residents and businesses are hoping that the homeless response program will help deal with people loitering, drinking and fighting — noting there have been several assaults. Vero credited Mansfield police officers for volunteering for the program even though overall department staffing numbers are down.
Pilot program to run for one year
Trolian said $70,000 in funding for the pilot program, which will run through June 2023, is coming from the mental health levy that Richland County voters have supported since 1986, while another $50,700 is being provided by the Richland County Foundation. In addition, Mansfield recently received a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant that officials hope will help address the homeless problem and put a lot of dollars into supportive services.
Regarding Mental Health Month, Trolian said 28 events have been scheduled to mark the observance, including “Bike-A-Palooza Family Festival,” a mental health birthday walk and a Healing Hearts party in the park all on May 21. Updates on the calendar and information on services are posted on the agency website richlandmentalhealth.com or available by calling the Mental Health and Recovery Services office at 419-774-5811.
In other business on Thursday, commissioners:
• Approved a $105,058 contract with Rising Son Paving for driveway paving and storm sewer work at Dayspring, the county’s assisted living facility.
• Authorized Adult Court Services to buy a vehicle for $30,000.
• Authorized the county engineer to advertise for bids for seal coating a total of 34 miles on eight roads.
• Approved new Medicaid contracts with Anthem, Humana and AmeriHealth as options for clients at the county’s Community Alternative Center.