Behind the struggles faced by many of the people Preble Street serves are fundamentally broken mental health and shelter systems. Living in high-stress situations on the streets or in crowded shelters with limited access to treatment makes people experiencing homelessness particularly vulnerable to chronic mental health issues and co-occurring substance use disorders. Earlier this month, MaineHousing released the 2022 Point in Time Count report showing that on January 25, 2022 3,455 people in Maine were experiencing homelessness; 1,192 of those people were identified as adults with a substance use disorder or with serious mental illness.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there is a clear link between homelessness and mental health issues. Without a safe place to stay and access to critical mental health and substance use disorder treatments, people are dying. People we know and love. To save more lives, Maine — and the rest of the U.S. — must invest in a trauma-informed, dignified shelter system and large-scale changes in how we care for people suffering from mental illness.
At Preble Street, we know from experience that shelters designed and operated using social work best practices are uniquely situated to promote the health and wellness of individuals accessing services as well as the surrounding community. We have witnessed the many benefits of shelters that are less populated, well-spaced, offer a welcoming and calm environment, and are staffed by social work professionals — like Preble Street caseworkers — who support clients in overcoming barriers to mental health treatment and care.
People suffering in the chaos of the streets are not well situated to navigate the complex housing and healthcare systems. Likewise for individuals in mental health crises. But when provided a 24/7, safe, healing environment to stabilize, a guiding hand from a compassionate social worker, and low-barrier access to mental health treatment hope and opportunity arise.
Preble Street is opening a Wellness Shelter this fall to help support 40 individuals experiencing homelessness and complex mental health and behavioral issues. But overhauling the current mental health and shelter system is a massive and complex task; as a nonprofit social service agency with 250 staff members we cannot do it alone. Only collective advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels for more funding and support for mental health and substance use treatment services and 24/7, trauma-informed shelters will bring this crisis to an end. We encourage you to stay up-to-date on these issues and join us in this critical advocacy for our neighbors.