By Kimberly Barta
For 40 years, the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi (MHASM) has been nestled in the Bayou View neighborhood. MHASM started as a grassroots organization in 1963, founded by a group of ladies who sold knitted goods to purchase Christmas gifts for people institutionalized at the state hospital in Whitfield. With time, MHASM has grown tremendously and is considered a community support agency.
MHASM’s mission is to be a champion of positive mental health and wellness. The organization provides resources and support services for those living with a mental illness. Thirteen members constitute the MHASM staff, with four being full time.
OPAL SMITH DROP-IN CENTER
The Opal Smith Drop-In Center is a day program for adults living with a mental illness. The center is a safe, non-judgmental environment where people can spend the day with their peers. It provides the opportunity to work toward personal recovery and wellness goals. Community partners visit to speak about different life skills, and breakfast and lunch are served daily.
The center is a person-centered program, which means members decide what the structure of the program entails and what activities they want to explore. We encourage and empower our members to live their most independent life. Within this program, we also have certified peer support specialists, whose experience allows them to help others. This program is funded by the state Department of Mental Health.
HOMELESS OUTREACH (PATH)
MHASM has two homeless outreach navigators who work within our PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program. Their main goal is to go into the community and reach members of the homeless population who may be living with a mental illness.
Our navigators begin to build a rapport with those individuals. They see what situations have brought them into homelessness and what steps could be taken to help them achieve housing, employment, benefits, medical assistance, proper identification/documentation and much more. Our PATH program works closely with other agencies on the Coast to put all needed resources and services into place. While working closely with the individuals, they may supply them with such necessities as tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, insect repellant and food. The program also includes a staff member who can work closely with those needing assistance in applying for Social Security benefits.
SUPPORTIVE HOUSING PROGRAM
Our Supportive Housing Program, funded by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), helps those who are chronically homeless and living with a mental illness by putting them into their own apartment. While in the program, they work closely with a case manager to achieve independent living goals, such as obtaining disability benefits, food, health care and a job.
The Mental Health Association of South Mississippi also offers various wellness programs for the community, such as WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) and Mental Health First Aid. We also participate in many health fairs within the community and have started virtual support groups. Learn more about MHASM and its programs at msmentalhealth.org.
WHAT WE ROUTINELY DO IN A YEAR
- 25 regular clients three days a week at our Drop- In Center
- 3,900 meals to people with mental illness
- 1,000 supply bags to homeless people on the Gulf Coast
- 15 formerly chronic homeless in our HUD Supportive Housing Program
- 3 bus tickets to get homeless people back to their families in other states
- 1,600 bus passes to homeless people
- 100 mental health providers trained in mental health-related activities
- 5 people supported to obtain employment
- 75 personalized Christmas gifts distributed
- 700 people given community resource information via phone
- 125,000 individuals exposed to mental health awareness information
*Information obtained from the MHASM website: msmentalhealth.org. Some numbers are approximate and may vary.
Kimberly Barta is the director of programs at the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi. She can be reached at (228) 864-6274 or email@example.com.