Aim to help homeless


Photo: Jerry Baker, FreelanceHarris County Sheriff's Office Deputy and Homeless Outreach Team member Luke Ditta, right, and Kristyn Stillwell, executive director of the Hope Haven ministry to the homeless, visit a homeless man. 

In an effort to help the area's more than 4,000 homeless residents, the Harris County Sheriff's Office has started a new outreach program.

The Homeless Outreach Team provides transportation to transitional housing or doctor's appointments and offers food, water, clothing, bedding and hygiene kits. The team's primary goal is to help the homeless find housing.

"Typically, our day revolves around helping people who cannot help themselves," sheriff's Lt. Robert Henry said. "We help people in need of housing, mental-health care. It's very fulfilling. It's a nontraditional police role. It's satisfying to be able to help our community in this way."

Henry, a 33-year veteran at the sheriff's office, started the program in November after seeing the growing need in the community.

"It's been a career-long goal of mine to help people who are mentally ill and to help people who are homeless, and sometimes there's a cross connection between the two," he said.

The idea behind the outreach team is to help the homeless population rather than continuously arresting them for loitering, Henry said.

"We're excited about it because No. 1, it's the right thing to do," he said. "We have a responsibility as human beings to help others."

In 2011, the Harris County Sheriff's Office began its Crisis Intervention Response Team to respond to calls involving mentally disturbed residents. In the last four years, the team has diverted 1,400 mentally ill residents from jail to a psychiatric setting.

The Homeless Outreach Team is a spinoff and expansion from that. In October, Henry approached Sheriff Ron Hickman with the idea.

"The sheriff really supported us on this," Henry said. "He told us, 'I see your vision, go do it.' "

Henry said he often saw the boomerang effect of ticketing and jailing homeless panhandlers.

"If you can't afford breakfast, you probably cannot afford a ticket," he said. "And if you don't pay the ticket, it turns to a warrant. We find you again because you have no alternative, and now you have a warrant for your arrest. So, our first responder is taking a homeless person downtown to the jail to get booked in."

Upon a person's release from jail, the cycle started again.

"We are criminalizing homelessness when really it's not anyone's choice," Henry said. "It's a very sad place to be. I don't think anyone woke up and said, 'I want to be homeless.' "

The number of financially unstable households in the northwest region continues to grow with the population, said Rebecca Landes, vice president of program services at Northwest Assistance Ministries. Hundreds of families and seniors struggle to pay for basic needs, primarily food, she said.

NAM has also increased its homeless prevention services by 6 percent from a year ago. Through several grants and partner agencies, including the sheriff's office, NAM helps homeless families find affordable housing.

The Homeless Outreach Team is possible thanks to private donations from two Texas residents who gave a total of $140,000 to the sheriff's office to start the program.


ICYMI: J-Que Shares How He Was Saved From Suicide Attempt {Audio}

ICYMI: J-Que Shares How He Was Saved From Suicide Attempt {Audio}

The word suicide alone is very taboo. Society often isolates people who use this word or feel this way. However according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education SAVE:

Suicide takes the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans every year.

Many who attempt suicide never seek professional care

There are an estimated 8 to 25 attempted suicides to 1 completion.

1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide each year.

These are just a few of the statistics about suicide. It is important to speak up and allow the conversation to happen. Many people ashamed or embarrassed to seek treatment or support for fear of being isolation or judged. Its time to stop stigma. Stand up and be the voice. 

The Mis-Education of Mental Illness

The Mis-Education of Mental Illness

Although I do not debate that Adam Lanza is a disturbed individual, I have a hard time identifying his acts as a result of “mental illness”. I have worked with individuals suffering from severe mental illness and have witnessed their behavior while experiencing a psychiatric crisis. I have yet to see someone able to carry out the orchestrated acts that Adam Lanza did.  I am tired of the miseducation of the general public about what mental illness really is. The media continues to sensationalize these acts of pre-planned violence and label them as “mental illness” in an attempt to explain the “unexplainable”, while perpetuating the stereotype that all people with a mental illness are dangerous.  This is simply not true and does a disservice to the millions of successful people diagnosed with a mental illness who are not recognized for their contributions to society. As long as the media continues to share this information and there isn’t a call to action to advocate for those with a mental illness, the world will continue to believe the stories of escaped convicts, mental asylum’s, strait jackets, and psychiatric brain surgeries to cure mental illness.

One Year Later: Creigh Deeds

One Year Later: Creigh Deeds
"Rebecca Deeds knows first-hand the toll that mental illness can take. She recalls her family's struggles to care for her brother, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And she says the day her brother attacked her father, State Sen. Creigh Deeds, and then killed himself was the worst day she'll ever have. Rebecca shared her story with News4's Doreen Gentzler to help others and start a real conversation about treatment. Part of our Changing Minds series. (Published Friday, Sep 12, 2014)"

Negative Mental Illness Terms: Think Before You Speak

Negative Mental Illness Terms: Think Before You Speak


In the today's world, people tend to say phrases that may be hurtful; many times, without even thinking about it. Sometimes, these phrases target specific populations – like those struggling with mental illness. Statements such as, "You're acting bipolar" is one phrase that seems to be greatly overused. Other sayings such as, "You're so gay" and "That's retarded" are also just as hurtful and need to be recognized and stopped.

Why are these negative mental illness sayings thrown around with such ease? (Worst Thing To Say To A Person With Bipolar Disorder) It may be due to the lack of knowledge about mental illness. In addition, kids and teens have become so numb to the words they utter, they are ignorant about the ramifications. When someone struggling with bipolar disorder hears - "he's been so bipolar lately" - that comment may send them into a depression and lead to fear about ever opening up about their demons.

These derogatory comments minimize mental illness. It's crucial to think before you speak. And if you hear someone spewing those phrases or comments, maybe next time you'll think about pointing that out.

New York Times Article: Deciding to Disclose your Mental Disorder at Work

New York Times Article: Deciding to Disclose your Mental Disorder at Work

I just read a great article about a man named Patrick Ross. After having some difficulty at work, Mr. Ross decided to inform his boss that he suffered from Bipolar Disorder. Although the law protects us from being discriminated against, the law does not protect us from being victims of stigmatization. Mr. Ross made a very brave and powerful move. I hope to read more stories like this in the future!

Giving Hope to Newly Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

Giving Hope to Newly Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

Healthline just launched a video campaign for bipolar disorder called "You've Got This" where bipolar patients can record a short video to give hope and inspiration to those recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

We will be donating $10 for every submitted campaign to To Write Love On Her Arms, so the more exposure the campaign gets the more the videos we'll receive and the more Healthline can donate to research, support, and treatment programs for mental health disorders.

Add your video