Kerman is Managing Director of Maison Blanchet. He lives in Portland.
Homeless Portland residents have endured horrific living conditions for the past 16 months. The pandemic has triggered a humanitarian crisis, leaving many people without shelter, food, sanitation and adequate services. Their humanity has been assaulted by living in degradation with endless exposure to the elements, including dangerous weather conditions and smoke from wildfires.
We witness their suffering daily here at Maison Blanchet in Old Town / Chinatown, where we provide meals, clothing and transitional shelter. And we’ve seen how the harsh conditions brought on by the pandemic have only exacerbated the effects of child abuse, neglect, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury that are sadly common among those we serve. . Compared to before the pandemic, the number of guests at Maison Blanchet who suffer from delirium, hallucinations and symptoms of trauma has increased significantly.
Portland and Multnomah County have provided emergency housing for hundreds of people, and we applaud the plans to erect temporary village-like communities. Unfortunately, for many people fed by Maison Blanchet, this will not be enough.
Their untreated mental health issues make it difficult not only to accommodate them, but also to provide them with the kinds of services that organizations like ours offer. We often see people coming to our doors in catatonic states, unable to communicate with us; others may exhibit drug-induced aggression towards our staff or other clients; and still others are experiencing an increased crisis there for which we do not have the expertise to deal with it. If people cannot safely and reliably access basic items like meals, how can we help them get out of homelessness?
We need a bold and innovative response that provides targeted support to help those whose mental health issues have been made worse by the pandemic.
One plan I propose is to train teams of mental health and peer support specialists – professionals trained to defuse crisis in ways that promote safety and dignity – to show up regularly in non-profit organizations. lucrative like ours during the times we provide our services. These teams would be able to help clients who do not respond, stabilize those who are in crisis and ensure that everyone present can access the services of the association before going to the scheduled service for the next. organization.
Because they will be on the move in the community, they will be able to respond to a crisis in seconds, unlike other response teams who need to call 911.
Since many of the people served by Blanchet House receive help elsewhere, these expert teams will develop relationships between nonprofits. They will know the specialized needs of our clients and can work with them to access services, including housing.
I am convinced that consistent and expert support will be effective. For the past eight months, Maison Blanchet has had a peer support specialist on site during our weekday lunch and dinner hours. It has made a significant difference for our diners, helping to provide resources, referral to shelters and calm situations before they escalate.. But the expense is too great for our organization to have such specialists for our three meals. It is much more efficient to have teams serving multiple agencies.
Collaboration between public and private organizations has never been stronger. We need the leaders of states, counties, and nonprofits to come together and leverage our existing infrastructure to create a safety net like this. We have all seen the toll the pandemic has taken on our homeless residents. How we approach it as a community is up to us.
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