Barriers to mental health care exist for everyone, but people experiencing homelessness — and especially homeless youth — have the odds stacked against them.
"While close to half of youth in homelessness struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, the support they need is too far away, takes too long to schedule, and is often with clinicians who lack specific expertise working with youth in homelessness,” Urban Peak Colorado Springs
Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen was quoted in a recent statement from the nonprofit, which serves homeless youth.
A $5 million federal grant
, announced April 9, could help address those challenges in Colorado by bringing mental health care directly to teens and young adults on the streets.
Over the next five years, the funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will pay for mental health clinicians to provide street outreach for youth ages 16 to 25 in Denver and Colorado Springs. The providers will contract with Urban Peak in both cities, which will, in turn, contract with the state's Office of Behavioral Health on the project.
The project is driven by three major goals, according to a statement from that state office: 1) identify homeless youth suffering from serious mental disorders and/or intellectual developmental disabilities; 2) promote collaboration across state agencies to increase youth access to mental health treatment; and 3) connect homeless youth to "public benefits, employment and social support and recovery services."
In Colorado Springs, the funding will allow Urban Peak to embed two clinicians in street outreach and add a case manager to provide wraparound services.
"While some of the help will look like traditional counseling in an office-type setting, much will happen in varied chunks of time across varied environments," Urban Peak's statement explains.
Urban Peak Colorado Springs already has an outreach team that hands out resources and connects youth with housing services (including the nonprofit's own transitional housing program and 20-bed shelter), but the team currently doesn't provide mental health care.
The grant will allow Urban Peak to begin contracting with clinicians this summer, Kemppainen says.
“The whole premise [of having providers do outreach] is to meet youth where they are, when they need it," she says. "...Mental and behavioral health support is crucial to creating the housing stability, employability and self-reliance youth need to exit homelessness.”