The group of us who started a new drop-in center did a tremendous amount of research before we started. First, I had lived in the community for nearly 20 years, as had many of the people in our organizing group. We did multiple focus groups asking consumers in the community what they wanted. We ended up finding two groups of consumers with different needs.
One group had already taken advantage of most of the mental health programs that existed, and wanted more than they had to offer. The other group consisted of people who basically had not been in other programs, had nowhere to go and had fallen through the gaps in the service system.
New Drop-In Center Served Unforeseeable Needs
Many didn’t have their basic needs met. Many were in life-threatening circumstances, or there was a high likelihood that their physical safety was in danger. It was the second group that we decided to serve, at least initially.
We found that many who came to the new drop-in center had very serious medical conditions or disabilities. After being open for only five months, one of the participants actually died at the center because she was in such poor health. She was someone I had known for several years.
Many others had untreated diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, kidney failure, serious heart disease, chronic pain and addiction to smoking. We even had someone on a heart transplant list.
We also had people whose medical conditions had gotten worse because of living at a shelter. One person had that skin-eating infection caused by a spider bite at the shelter, and almost had his arm amputated. Another got a serious staph infection from sleeping on the floor at the shelter.
We also had people who had other mental disabilities beside psychiatric ones, such as intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injury, or autism spectrum disabilities.
Many folks had such serious medical conditions, in addition to psych disabilities, addictions, and other disabilities. They had no access to proper medical care, and were “treated and streeted” at the emergency room. It was no wonder to me that they didn’t necessarily want to “work on recovery”. They were just trying to survive.
We did what we could to facilitate proper medical treatment for these people at our new drop-in center. Recovery from severe emotional distress is impossible for someone with severe physical health problems. That turned out to be the members’ greatest need at our new drop-in center.