With the development of an onsite Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) within the next year, St. Francis House will pass a major milestone in our ability to provide comprehensive, integrated treatment to our guests experiencing substance use disorders. Building on the progress we made in recent years with the development of the Recovery Support Center and our focus on harm reduction, the IOP will be yet another step toward closing the historical service-delivery gap between the homeless services and treatment systems of care.
The IOP is designed to meet the complex needs of people experiencing homelessness by building a bridge from substance use to recovery that just doesn’t exist today. As project lead Andrea Farina, Vice President of Program Strategy & Initiatives explains, people experiencing homelessness often find a stark lack of support after going through detox programs.
“For the guest, that systemic problem is very real. Maybe we got them to detox, but now that guest comes out and they’re still experiencing homelessness. With no home to retreat to, they can’t control their surroundings. So, they are still around people who are using substances…and the cycle continues,” Farina said.
Our onsite IOP will serve guests throughout their recovery process without referring them offsite and away from homeless services. Guests work with our behavioral health staff and decide to participate in the IOP, will enroll in a 4–6-week curriculum and will join up to 20 patients being treated on any given day. Patients will be supported by peer counseling, and mental health professionals. At any time in their recovery journey, guests can also get support from their peers every day of the week from our onsite Recovery Support Center. Guests are encouraged to enroll in our other programs to help them maximize their income and secure stable housing. Importantly, all of these services are integrated and under the same roof.
Our IOP will differ from a typical IOP in some key ways. Traditionally, IOP patients have a stable home and support outside of the program. The vast majority of our patients will be experiencing homelessness and, as a result, will not have this stability.
Molly Dugan, our Associate Director of Behavioral Health who will oversee the program, explained some of the ways our IOP will operate differently to better serve our guests.
“We want to talk about the practical life skills that come into play when you’re working on your recovery and also address the fact that a lack of housing is contributing to substance use,” Dugan said. “The traditional model of care for substance use can be very consequence driven… We want to reframe that so there is more open communication, and we are truly meeting people where they are at.”
Rather than expecting immediate abstinence, the program will take a more realistic approach to treatment, focusing on building up trust instead of implementing strict consequences. The goal is to keep people engaged in treatment.
In addition to being a milestone in the care we provide for our guests, the IOP represents a significant new relationship between St. Francis House and the medical world. After a pilot period, the IOP will work with MassHealth, a partnership which will financially support much of the program long term. The program has also been made possible by leading philanthropic support from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, a longstanding partner in our mission, and our generous donors who play an important role in making this important resource possible available to our guests.