Mental Health Awareness Month: Serving our guests, pandemic or not.

Part 3 of our 3 part series for Mental Health Awareness Month.

The mental health difficulties our homeless guests face have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Pandemic or not, the St. Francis House staff continue to offer critical mental health support to our guests, more ways than one.

Typically, the St. Francis House Clinical and Recovery Services team provides constant in-person counseling, but the ability to do that is extremely limited right now. Our appointment schedules may have changed a bit, but during the pandemic, a licensed social worker is and will always be onsite and available for a one-on-one meeting, not only for our guests who are in crisis but for staff who support these guests, as well.

(Pictured) Tim Bulla, St. Francis House Associate Director of Clinical Services, getting ready to start the day and meet with guests in need. 

During the past few weeks of the COVID-19 emergency, we have also been working with our on-site Boston Health Care for the Homeless clinic to get guests to their telehealth appointments, and help them to access their prescribed medications. We also work closely with the Department of Mental Health to identify guests who may be eligible for their services, and complete referrals for them.

We’re doing detox referrals for guests who ask for this type of assistance and encouraging guests to continue in substance abuse treatment programs that become available to them. Our staff talks to our guests about harm reduction and supports their ability to stay safe in the community, even if they choose to continue using substances.

At the moment, a number of our case managers are working in front door triage and kitchen roles. It’s been very reassuring for our guests to see their friendly, familiar faces. When possible, our clinical case management team is also following up with guests remotely, providing support, assisting with access to food, medication, and emergency resources, and, in some cases, paths to housing. Amid the pandemic, this reduces the strain on shelters and improves safety – including mental health safety – for all.

The St. Francis House staff is also greatly involved with the more mundane aspects of dealing with the pandemic. We provide a mask to every guest who enters the building and coach them on wearing it properly. The team also advises guests to wash their hands and practice social distancing while also maintaining social contact in a healthy way.

Unfortunately, it’s a harsh reality for those struggling with mental health instability and managing homelessness, in addition to being of the most vulnerable population that this virus targets. The work we’re doing at St. Francis House, to build trust, connect guests to resources, and get them access to the support and care they need, is more critical now than ever.

While there’s great uncertainty about when the pandemic will pass, rest assured that the St. Francis House staff are here for our guests — and that includes looking out for their mental health.

For more information on the Clinical and Recovery Offices at St. Francis House, you can read more about our services on our website here.

Read Part 1: Mental Health: All tangled up in homelessness…
Read Part 2: When it comes to mental health, COVID-19 makes matters worse