Homeless man
A homeless man sits outside of the old courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

By Deacon Jim Vargas

As the hundreds of people we serve at Father Joe’s Villages each day can attest, sleeping on the street is often the final leg of a complicated path. We recognize that each person working to overcome homelessness needs a unique combination of housing and services in order to achieve a stable future.

The team at our Village Family Health Center knows firsthand how important this personalized approach is for those struggling with mental health issues. For these individuals and families, it’s clear that comprehensive mental health services are a vital step on the road to increased stability and a place to call home.

On average, 37 percent of the people housed in our programs live with a mental illness, while the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 26 percent of adults staying in homeless shelters nationally live with a serious mental illness.

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Living with a mental health condition makes everyday routines more difficult, from spending time with friends to keeping a job and managing a household. For some, simply getting out of bed in the morning is a major challenge.

Despite these daily challenges, people with serious mental illness may not understand that they are ill and need care. Illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression can impair one’s judgment and impact the ability to make decisions. People with these disorders commonly misinterpret what others say, often alienating friends and family. This loss of community makes mental illness worse and increases the likelihood that someone living with mental illness will end up experiencing homelessness.

Deacon Jim Vargas
Deacon Jim Vargas

At Father Joe’s Villages, the dedicated team at our Village Family Health Center provides critical support to these individuals to help them address the unique challenges they face in landing jobs and securing housing. Our social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists provide services including individual and group therapy, psychiatric evaluations with ongoing treatment and medication management.

Through individual and group therapeutic interventions, clinicians utilize evidence-based treatment approaches to help a wide range of clients including, adults, children, couples and families. This approach supports clients as they overcome some of their most difficult days by helping them to understand themselves better and to learn how to more effectively regulate their emotions so they can form healthy relationships with others.

Joanna, an individual who participated in mental health services at Father Joe’s Villages, tells us how she sees this process as part of her journey toward stability. “My situation and my condition as a whole is taken care of,” she says. “My doctor has a tremendous way of working slowly but surely and making sure the road ahead is clear before taking the next step.”

Joanna is one of many who rely on mental health services to help them on this challenging road out of homelessness. Our annual evaluation of behavioral health groups shows that 81 percent of people in Reflections Group, an innovative trauma intervention program, improved their mental health. For these individuals, that shift is key to transitioning from a sense of hopelessness toward hope for a more stable future.

These life-changing programs are only possible because of the Village Family Health Center staff who bring their compassion to work each day along with their expertise in the mental health field. A patient named Adam says it best: “I have been blessed by wonderful doctors, doctors with a loving heart, doctors who offer their time to listen and console, professionals with a heart for those they care for.”

We continue working diligently to ensure that people like Adam looking for a better future do not have to let mental health issues stand in their way. From our doctors and volunteers to those who participate in our Thanksgiving Day 5K, we each have a role to play in helping those struggling with homelessness to reach their full potential.

I invite anyone interested in making an impact to visit neighbor.org and choose a first step to getting involved. Joanna, Adam and the entire team at the Village Family Health Center continue to rely on our community to create a San Diego where everyone has a place to call home.

Deacon Jim Vargas is president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages. Client names in this piece have been changed.