North Texas homeless groups increasingly provide mental health care

Organizations serving the homeless in North Texas are increasingly providing mental health services in addition to traditional assistance such as food and warming centers.

Both Dallas-based Our Calling and Austin Street Center groups have multiple mental health care providers on site each day.

Austin Street spokeswoman Teresa Thomas said many people who visit the center struggle emotionally, but do not have to deal with a serious mental illness.

“Everyone in Austin Street Center mourns the loss of something. So a job loss, a home loss, the loss of a loved one,” Thomas said.

Wayne Walker, CEO and Pastor of both Thomas and Our Calling in Dallas, emphasized that people experiencing homelessness experience many traumas while living on the streets. They say that months and years of not feeling safe and not giving respite creates a fragile state of mind.

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“Many are abused or hacked weekly, and some even daily,” Walker said. “These are traumas that people deal with in their lives that cause significant emotional, spiritual, physical, mental health crises far beyond what most people would think of as an experience of homelessness.”

Our Calling staff are trained by mental health care providers to better prepare them for the scenarios they face.

Denton Council, which has recently opened a new community shelter, is also committed to addressing the mental health issues of its homeless population.

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Wendy McGee, Executive Director of Our Daily Bread, which runs the shelter, said the new facility will have on-site medical services – something they didn’t offer at their previous location.

The new shelter also includes classrooms, workstations, a contact center and semi-private rooms where people can have a virtual doctor visit or job interview.

McGee said his staff understand how wellness can affect a person’s ability to achieve and maintain independence.

“We hope to continue to grow this wellness program and help connect people with a primary care provider,” McGee said.

Despite the growing emphasis on mental health services in homeless centers, Walker with Our Calling said that mental health is not the number one determinant of homelessness, but rather a lack of a supportive community to rely on when a crisis hits.

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“There are more people with mental health problems living in homes on the street than ever before,” he said. “More people with addiction problems living at home in Dallas on the street than ever before.”

Got a tip? Email Mya Nicholson at [email protected]

Mya Nicholson reports for KERA’s government responsibility team. She studies broadcast journalism at the University of North Texas she.

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