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The Role of Mental Health in Finding Housing Stability in 2020 and Beyond

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In a year of shutdowns and Stay Home orders, mental health has been a hot topic on many people’s minds. For families living in our transitional housing program who are recovering from the trauma of homelessness, 2020 has posed unique challenges as they seek to find stability and work toward finding permanent housing. Strangely enough, how recently a family was experiencing homelessness has an impact on how they’ve responded to the ongoing pandemic.

“The life of a homeless family before they find housing is so stressful,” said Attain Housing Case Manager Meghan Gililland. “They are very much in fight or flight mode, so in some ways, the constant changes of 2020 haven’t phased some folks who are new to the program.

However, Megan says, it’s been a more difficult year for families who were more settled into our housing program.

“Some of these families were just starting to get more stable again and then every thing shut down and changed on them again.”

Both Megan and Program Services Greg McLeod agree that the major barrier right now for client families seeking therapy to work on mental health issues is childcare and school closures.

“As case managers, we always encourage our families to plug into therapy and we provide counseling referrals and resources, but since these folks are all parents, it comes down to childcare,” Greg said. “How can they juggle therapy with working or job-searching, helping their school-age kids with their online classes, and taking care of any small children? That said, we are here to point them in the right direction, but without adding more pressure on top of everything else.”

With a goal of reducing some of that pressure and lowering barriers to counseling, Attain Housing applied for and has been awarded a large grant from Premera Blue Cross to provide client families with direct access to a dedicated therapist.

“The Premera grant will make a big difference in terms of lowering barriers to therapy for our client families,” Greg said. “It will eliminate that extra step of making an outside referral and hopefully make counseling less of an imposition for folks to get into a routine.”

Unfortunately, even telehealth sessions during the pandemic are not without barriers.

“Telehealth and Zoom calls have their perks, but it’s still hard to find time and space to talk about pain and trauma,” Megan said. “For many parents, it’s hard to talk about that stuff in front of their kids, or they might not feel like they can be totally open if their kids are right there with them.”

Megan has seen the positive impacts that mental health work can have on clients, most recently with a single mother who started doing art therapy at the recommendation of the student counselor she was referred to.

“She has been doing these sessions regularly now,” Megan said. “Art therapy seems to be really good for her so far.”

The relentless challenges of 2020 continue to be felt hardest by the most vulnerable in our society. Attain Housing aims to continue to provide our client families with the tools they need to rebuild their lives, work on their trauma, and end up in a better place mentally and physically after spending two years in our transitional housing program. Your donations and support allow our case managers to do this vital work that can create a true turning point in the lives of so many parents and children.

Mental Health Resources for Low-Income Families & Individuals

Sound (formerly known as Sound Mental Health) – 206-302-2300 – www.sound.health

Evergreen Behavioral Health Services – 425-899-6300 – www.evergreenhealth.com/in-home-behavioral-health

SeaMar Behavioral Health – 206-764-4714 – www.seamar.org