North Texas homeless groups increasingly provide mental health care

Organizations serving the homeless in North Texas increasingly provide mental health care services in addition to traditional aid like food and warming centers.

Dallas-based groups Our Calling and Austin Street Center both have multiple mental health care providers in their facilities every day.

Teresa Thomas, a spokesperson for Austin Street, said a lot of individuals that visit the center are struggling emotionally, albeit not necessarily dealing with a severe mental illness.

“Everyone at Austin Street Center is grieving the loss of something. So, the loss of a job, the loss of a home, the loss of a loved one,” Thomas said. “Then they are unfortunately just unable to cope.”

Both Thomas and Wayne Walker, CEO and Pastor of Our Calling in Dallas, emphasized that people experiencing homelessness go through a lot of traumas while living out on the streets. They say months and years of not feeling safe and not having a respite creates a fragile mental state.

“Many of them are abused or assaulted weekly and some of them even daily,” Walker said. “Those are traumas that people are dealing with in their lives that cause significant emotional, spiritual, physical, mental health crises that are far beyond what most people would think is the homeless experience.”

The staff at Our Calling is trained by mental health care providers to be better prepared for the scenarios they encounter.

The City of Denton, which recently opened a new community shelter, is also determined to address the mental health concerns of its homeless population.

Wendy McGee, the Executive Director of Our Daily Bread, which operates the shelter, said the new facility will have medical services on site – something they had not offered at their previous locations.

The new shelter also includes classrooms, workstations, a communication center, and semi-private rooms where people can have a virtual doctor’s visit or job interview.

McGee said her staff knows how wellness can impact a person’s ability to secure and maintain independence.

“We’re hoping to continue to grow that wellness program and to help connect folks with a primary care provider” to address acute and chronic conditions, McGee said.

Despite an increasing emphasis on mental health services at homeless centers, Walker with Our Calling said mental health isn’t the number one predictor of homelessness, rather a lack of a supportive community to fall back on when a crisis hits.

“There are more people with mental health issues living in homes than will ever be on the street,” he said. “There are more people with addiction issues living in homes in Dallas than will ever be on the street.”

Got a tip? Email Mya Nicholson at [email protected]

Mya Nicholson reports for KERA’s government accountability team. She studies broadcast journalism at the University of North Texas.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.