December 16, 2019

Cascadia’s Shelter Team Provides Crucial Behavioral Health Support

Shelters serve a range of individuals who come with their own unique experiences, facing their own unique challenges. There are individuals in shelters who may be struggling with mental health challenges and don’t have the support and resources they need, and oftentimes these resources are beyond what a standard shelter environment can provide. A lack of behavioral health support can create a traumatic situation for the affected individual, and can also escalate into a crisis that presents a potentially dangerous situation for others.

Formed in January 2019, the Shelter Behavioral Health Team (SBHT) is the newest part of   Cascadia’s Project Respond. The team works in collaboration with the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) and Multnomah County Mental Health and Addictions to address the increased mental health needs for those individuals accessing publicly funded shelter services.

The objective of the SBHT is to prevent, de-escalate and respond to behavioral health-related challenges among shelter guests. The team’s goal is to decrease the need for higher-level mental health supports, law enforcement, and to reduce removals or exclusions from shelter services.

Regularly, the SBHT responds to situations where individuals in shelters who are at risk of being removed due to an escalation of behaviors, including yelling or threatening, which may indicate a greater mental health challenge. In more extreme cases, the SBHT clinicians respond directly to shelters when there has been an emergency or death that may impact the mental health and well-being of other shelter participants. Additionally, the team provides on-site support and education to shelter staff around mental health concerns and how these may impact an individual’s behavior.

The SBHT is comprised of one supervisor, three counselors and three peer support specialists. Counselors receive direct requests from any shelter staff between 3:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., seven days a week. They are mobile and respond in a team of two. Counselors provide engagement, assessment, and de-escalation with the goal of providing short-term supports. They assist the individual in maintaining their shelter and connect them to identified supports to reduce the likelihood of a crisis. Peer support specialists provide mentorship and support to individuals having contact with the SBHT counselors, and offer a collaborative partnership in navigating community connections.

The team has worked within 20 shelters throughout the Portland metro area to provide behavioral support to individuals living in shelters. In less than one year, the SBHT has provided over 2,000 services to over 280 unique individuals, including the facilitation of referrals for services related to shelter/housing, mental health, peer support, substance use, benefits, domestic violence and employment.

To learn more about Cascadia’s crisis services, visit: