Ending the hospital-to-homeless cycle in Coquitlam

New Fraser Health program aims to help the hardest to house who have complex mental health issues. - THINKSTOCK.COM
New Fraser Health program aims to help the hardest to house who have complex mental health issues.
— image credit: THINKSTOCK.COM

A homeless advocate is welcoming a new initiative that will provide severely mentally ill people with psychiatric care, support and housing so they stop cycling through emergency rooms and ending up on the street.

Rob Thiessen of the Hope for Freedom Society said some of the hardest to house people in the Tri-Cities are struggling with complex mental illness, and often, substance abuse issues, and Fraser Health's new ACT [Assertive Community Treatment team] could make a big difference to their lives.

Thiessen said he knows of at least three people who need psychiatric care but won't access services on their own, he said, and ACT will fill a much needed gap between hospital and community mental health services.

"I wish the new team lots of success and we're going to do the best we can to cooperate with them any way we can," Thiessen said.

ACT, announced this week, is a team of 10 mental health and social workers plus psychiatrists working in New Westminster and the Tri-Cities who will operate in the community instead of offices to support vulnerable and otherwise hard-to reach clients.

Denyse Houde, a director of Fraser Health Mental Health and Addictions, said the program ran for a year in Surrey and was deemed a success because it kept people from cycling in and out of emergency rooms and got them into stable housing. Anecdotally, she said, people's health and nutrition improved and they were able to re-establish connections with families.

"These are the most complex clients. They tend to have a combination of mental health and substance use issues, not all, but many, and they tend to have fallen through the cracks because of the traditional model of expecting clients to come back to the office."

She said a financial commitment of $2 million a year has been made to expand the program into New Westminster in the Tri-Cities, and Houde said the money will also provide rent subsidies.

The Tri-Cities/New Westmisnter ACT team already has a case load of 45 clients but has the capacity to expand to between and 80 and 100 people referred to them by hospitals, police and other concerned citizens and advocates. ACT team members will meet clients anywhere that is convenient for them, including homes, shelters, parks and drop-in centers, and provide them with a plan and services depending on what they need.


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