Charles is someone you will never meet, yet you have changed his life for the better in so many ways. As a teenager, he was raised in an area where he saw violence, shootings and beatings every day. He was afraid and didn’t feel like he had a lot of choices. He chose to drink and do drugs to make himself numb and feel less afraid. These choices made him love himself less and less. When his mom died, he felt even more unloved and alone. He had nowhere to live, couldn’t hold a job because of his addictions and mental illness and lived most of his life on the street, homeless.
Fortunately, he met Ann, an outreach worker with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans. Ann goes to meet our most vulnerable community members where they are. She met Charles at a homeless shelter. Within weeks, Charles started making different choices—choices that would change his life forever. A choice to love himself by getting into treatment for his mental illness and his alcohol and drug addictions. A choice to get sober and to continue working on his sobriety—one day at a time.
Now, if you were to see Charles, you wouldn’t find him on the street or in a homeless shelter. He lives in his own one-bedroom apartment because of Ann and our Permanent Supportive Housing Program. You’ll find him with a smile on his face and hope in his eyes. He even stands a little taller. That’s what you made happen with your help and support.
You and others like you in our community help us close our funding gap so we can provide needed resources like Ann to provide the care and support individuals like Charles need.
Clay was on and off the streets and living with his parents before Volunteers of America entered his life. Clay was not working at that time and he would wander aimlessly around the city, causing him to get into trouble. Clay started receiving services from Volunteers of America’s Supported Living Services program 14 years ago. Since then he has grown a lot.
A key aspect of Clay’s positive transition has been his Personal Care Assistant (PCA), Elsa. Clay went through a number of PCAs until Elsa came to work with him 14 years ago. Elsa recalls Clay’s loneliness at the time. When he wasn’t on the streets, he would hide in his dark bedroom with the windows shut and the blinds drawn. He was unhappy with his former PCA, but when Elsa came she was able to draw him out of his shell, help him to communicate better with others, and become self-sufficient. Elsa has taught Clay how to take care of his own medical needs and how to practice good personal hygiene. Most importantly, with Elsa’s guidance Clay does not get into trouble anymore.
After Clay proved his excellent work capabilities as a volunteer he was hired on as a permanent employee at Dorignac’s grocery store in Metairie. He is now able to afford his own apartment and has held a steady job at Dorignac’s for 13 years. When Clay is not working he likes to spend time reading at Barns and Noble and shopping for rock band t-shirts. Clay is particularly fond of classic rock and listens to a lot of radio. Clay loves drawing and painting, especially store fronts from places he has visited. Take a look at some of Clay’s art above.
James was living under a bridge when he first encountered Volunteers of America. He had been homeless for over 7 years as a result of an untreated mental illness. An outreach associate with Volunteers of America’s Mental Health Services assisted him with getting to a hospital for proper diagnosis and medication. The outreach associate provided James with a case manager who has been dedicated to encouraging James to persevere with his plans for recovery. James has been very committed to his treatment; He never misses a doctor’s visit, nor skips doses of his medication. James has been so successful rebuilding his life, he is now able to live independently. His case manager assisted him with finding his own house. James is ecstatic about living in his new place, which is located in the neighborhood where he grew up.
James will receive treatment for his mental illness for the rest of his life. He is very grateful that with the assistance of Volunteers of America he is able to find stability and make plans for his future.
Over the past five years the suicide rate in St. Tammany Parish has risen over 30 percent. Last year, 39 people took their own lives in St. Tammany Parish and there were more than 480 attempted suicides. Based on last year’s statistics, about 17 out of every 100,000 in the parish committed suicide, which is about six more than the national average. In the first four months of 2011 there were 7 suicides.
On August 1, 2011 Volunteers of America, in partnership with St. Tammany parish, began the Crisis Response Program to prevent suicide, save lives, and address mental health issues before they escalate. The program has two components: response to a mental health crisis at the request of first responders and follow-up after the immediate crisis has ended. In the first month of operation, the program received 33 mental health emergency calls.
Calls are sent to the Crisis Response Team through the sheriff’s office. When someone calls 911 and reports suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt, the deputy calls the Crisis Response answering service. At that point, Volunteers of America counselors deploy to a crisis scene and make a recommendation to first responders about a course of treatment. Counselors act as liaisons between first responders, medical personnel and families. In addition, follow-up and after-care will ensure that families follow through with referrals and services recommended. A comprehensive plan of treatment for the individual in crisis and his/her family is developed, if needed.
This person-centered, client-driven family stabilization plan is designed to help families with establishing and achieving goals. Crisis response counselors are also available to provide community training and education.
The Crisis Response team is comprised of two full-time mental health professionals, one case manager and nine part-time on-call crisis response counselors, who are also mental health professionals. There is someone on call 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Learn more on our website.
Melissa Haley, Director of Supportive Services for Volunteers of America appeared as a guest on WWL TV with Sally Ann Roberts this morning. Melissa spoke about Volunteers of America’s Mental Health Services. It was noted that anytime there is a crisis, i.e. hurricane, floods, tornadoes, it spikes mental health issues in individuals whether they are directly affected by the disasters or not. Melissa noted that Volunteers of America will come to you if the individual needing mental health services cannot come to the office or would rather meet in another location. For more information on Volunteers of America’s Mental Health Services you can call us at 504.483.3550.
The following is a story from our Mental Health Services program, which serves people with chronic mental illness and who are homeless to live independently in the community.
Albert lived without a home for over 5 yrs. In April 2009, he was enrolled in our PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program, which addresses the needs of individuals that are homeless, mentally ill, and substance abusers. PATH provides outreach case managers and workers an opportunity to search for homeless individuals throughout the streets of New Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson Parish.
The Outreach Team met with Albert and began talking to him, attempting to build a relationship. During the first several meetings, Albert was very shy and quiet, not giving too much information. However, through repeated contact and persuasion, he began talking with staff and befriended them. Albert discussed the death of his mother and family members who tried to take advantage of him for his money. Albert also revealed he was depressed. Staff referred him to a behavioral health clinic.
Albert began treatment and became stable on his medication. He was then referred to our PATH Outreach Case Manager, Ms. Marlene Chandler, to help him with housing and employment. Shortly after being accepted into our Case Management Program, Albert was housed in the Algiers area and was able to obtain a job with Burger King. Currently, Albert is living independently and continues to work different jobs to maintain his independence.
Click here to read a piece from WWL about New Orleans’ mental health delivery system post-Katrina, featuring Rebecca Thees, our Coordinator of Disaster Related Services.
Click here to read a piece from the Times-Picayune about mental health issues in post-Katrina New Orleans, also featuring Rebecca Thees.