Partnering for Health
Homelessness is one among the many issues that impacts the lives of those who are served at the CMHC. Mental illness and addiction are often compounded by the unstable housing. Without safe, warm and reliable homes, many people struggle to take care of their physical and mental healthcare needs.
Columbus House is the lead agency for New Haven’s inter-agency Outreach & Engagement team that connects people on the street with housing, services, and other critical resources. The CMHC Foundation is proud to partner with the Columbus House in the pursuit of safe housing for those most in need in the New Haven community. The CMHC Foundation invests $500 a month to support New Haven’s Outreach & Engagement team. These funds help the team build trust and meet the pressing needs of the people served by providing food and drink, seasonal clothing and accessories, personal hygiene products, and much more.
Dr. Steiner, Chair of the Board of Columbus House and Medical Director at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, spoke about the radical ways that Columbus House is listening to and partnering with those in need on the New Haven Green during her opening remarks at Columbus House’s Annual Meeting on December 7, 2017. Please read her full remarks below:
Opening Remarks by Dr. Jeanne Steiner, DO
Columbus House Annual Meeting
Thursday December 7, 2017
New Haven Lawn Club
“Good Morning. My name is Jeanne Steiner and I am so pleased to welcome all of you today on behalf of the Board of Directors and Staff of Columbus House. We estimate that more than 230 members of our community are here this morning to break bread, honor the awardees and hear about the successes and challenges of our organization and the people it serves.
What a great community we all represent! We are members of the faith community, academic community, business and industry, healthcare, education and government, and other sectors. Some in this room have experienced homelessness personally or through family, and we’ve all developed an acute awareness of this complex condition through our work, the news, or simply our walks through town. We are all affected by homelessness to some degree, and even though we are a wonderfully diverse group, coming from different backgrounds, living in different neighborhoods or towns, and maybe even holding different political views, I’m guessing that we share some core beliefs. The most relevant one for today is the belief that safe housing is a fundamental right in this society and, specifically, in this community.
We take that belief and translate it into support for the central mission of Columbus House to end homelessness and to provide assistance to those who are currently or at risk of becoming homeless by devoting our time, creativity, passion and political and financial resources to the issue.
I recently spent an afternoon on the New Haven Green tagging along with two health care workers who provide outreach to folks who might be in need of services. For the past several months I’ve been working with colleagues on a project to bring mental health care to folks on the street. The purpose of my visit to the Green was to learn more about the ongoing work of the existing outreach team, and to gain some first-hand knowledge of the challenges of the people they are trying to engage.
It was a cold and rainy November day, and I was barely able to keep the raw weather at bay with several layers of my warm clothing. The health care workers I accompanied talked with people who were struggling with a variety of social and healthcare issues, and I was enormously impressed by the humanity and mutual respect of each interaction. One young couple we met, wide-eyed and soft-spoken, approached the team for help and disclosed that they were living outside. The young man spoke about and even allowed a brief physical examination of some medical issues that clearly needed attention, and would likely not resolve until the couples’ living condition and the chaos of their lives was improved.
Some individuals seemed to be manifesting symptoms of mental illness, though they weren’t asking for assistance. Perhaps they didn’t realize that some degree of distress and instability could be alleviated with treatment, or perhaps they couldn’t negotiate entry into our fragmented and often inflexible system of care. Others were clearly under the influence of substances, some of which were likely adulterated with additives that unknowingly placed them at great danger.
Several folks on that cold and rainy afternoon mentioned that they had foot pain among other ills, and a clinician had to remove poorly-fitting shoes and soaking wet socks to tend to these sore feet. He performed a gentle examination and a bit of treatment - right on those the benches and walkways of the Green – in part to meet the immediate needs of these folks and in part to build trust and engage them in ongoing healthcare and other services. Afterwards, another clinician quietly handed each individual a pair of clean and dry socks.
These are the small moments of support that we can build on – literally build on by developing new opportunities for affordable housing, new economic policies, new healthcare and social services, and new solutions to a societal issue that affects all of us.
I am so proud to be a member of this greater community where my husband and I have lived and worked for nearly 30 years, but especially the community of people in this room and our neighbors, co-workers, and institutions that support Columbus House.”