Homelessness is a public health crisis. Although homeless service agencies throughout the world provide homes, Healing Connections stands apart in our successful approach helping people reclaim their lives. Moving off the streets is exciting, but it’s also a traumatic change for our participants. Their routines, social lives, and survival skills have all been built in the context of homelessness. Healing Connections help rebuild these routines. From learning how to cook to volunteering at the furniture bank, getting involved with their community is the ultimate goal. Many reconnect with their families and make new friends. National data shows that people with serious mental illnesses are twice as likely to be unemployed as persons without mental illnesses. This is why Healing Connections is dedicated to helping people get back to school, enroll in job training, find volunteer opportunities, and ultimately be able to work again. At the heart, Healing Connections seeks to garner independence while fostering community connections. This way, participants can be a part of their neighborhoods – not simply a client receiving services. This is done through a client centered approach where the voice, drive, and desires of those being served is just as important as those doing the service.
Healing Connections approaches behavioral health in an innovative, holistic, person to person manner and is the only provider to incorporate this level of integration with the chronically homeless population. We believe everyone has the right to pursue his or her hopes and dreams in life unhindered by diagnosis or homeless history. There is no reason anyone should have a marginalized life where they only interact with case managers and clinical staff. Fostering independence unlike any other agency, Healing Connections eschews the traditional method which views behavioral health changes as minimal at best. But we believe each person is capable of making life-changing choices. Through supportive programs, each participant can be whole.
One example is our photography club where participants study photography, take photos representing the worst and best times of their lives, and write their experiences. They then display their work to empower their peers and mentor those leaving homelessness.
Healing Connections staff has presented this innovative person-to-person model at the National Association of Case Managers conference sharing interventions applied in our nontraditional method and the resulting positive outcomes. As leaders, Healing Connections has developed unique approaches to serve the whole person within the chronically homeless population. Healing Connections leads the way in focusing on partnerships that help participants thrive free of stigma and reestablish lives lost to the streets. Therefore, we seek supportive partnerships for the success of participants which includes research and services though several notable universities. These practices are rooted in partnership with Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities and guidance from its Principle Investigator and Director Mark Salzer, Ph.D.
Healing Connections hosts international visitors interested in replicating our approaches along with developing relationships with organizations in San Francisco, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.
We have grown and evolved Healing Connections to become a self-sustaining model. To advocate for healthier lives for our friends and neighbors in need, we have added a full-time Manager of Advocacy and Workforce Development Initiatives. We have also expanded to include six Certified Peer Specialists to facilitate inclusionary practices while fostering peer-to-peer support. Emphasizing our belief that we provide housing first, not housing only, Healing Connections leads the charge to serve the most vulnerable homeless persons – people that other organizations have not been able to serve.
Our Certified Peer Specialists lead special interests groups designed around defined goals, participant expectations and timelines. Their role allows for the work done in Healing Connections to ripple into the clinical work on which our agency was built creating a cycle of sustainability.
Healing Connections has received global attention from cities, nonprofits and governments who are seeking out our guidance to replicate what we do in their communities. We provide steps to inclusion in the chaos of case management – and remind professionals that through conscious steps they can influence the lives of those they serve.
We are developing a “toolkit” of our approach to connect with participants. The data compiled would be available to other agencies seeking to implement creative behavioral health interventions and the integration of consumers into the community while supporting independence.
We have developed a comprehensive evaluation process to track our results and find out exactly what the participants need to thrive. Through the use of iPads, Healing Connections can even evaluate participants in their own homes making our process more accessible.
Healing Connections has seen extraordinary outcomes since its start. We have been the driving force in helping our participants maintain an unprecedented 89% housing retention rate (5+ years later) with homeless individuals considered “not housing ready” by other programs.
Due to the fact that Healing Connections helps people live meaningful lives, we have also reduced the number of Community Behavioral Health hospitalization episodes and number of days per episode.
Through our many healing activities, our participants have a chance to pursue new passions and achieve goals they did not think possible. For example, several of our participants were very interested in exercising and getting active. They voiced their idea, worked with their teams to budget for gym memberships and now exercise together weekly. Not only is it improving their physical and behavioral health, but it also improves their ability to build relationships with one another and interact in their communities.