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The UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health has received a $2.4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address homelessness and provide comprehensive behavioral (mental health) care and other services for individuals living with serious mental illnesses who are experiencing or who are at risk for homelessness. One of five homeless individuals experiences serious mental illness.

Project “Homelink” will serve individuals in Orange and Chatham counties. Thava Mahadevan, MS, director of operations at the Center and the recovery programs at the UNC Farm at Penny Lane, is the principal investigator for the five-year grant. Mahadevan is a graduate of the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling.

“Individuals with serious mental illness need assistance in managing both their physical and mental health care and day-to-day living,” said Mahadevan. “Along with securing and maintaining housing, there is a tremendous need for them to receive evidence-based (latest scientific practices) behavioral (mental health and substance abuse) and physical health care.”

The Homelink team will focus on individuals who are: chronically homeless; living in assisted living facilities who are at risk of becoming homeless; transitioning from institutional settings; receiving assertive community treatment or outpatient services; or who are at risk of homelessness. They anticipate serving 120 individuals annually and 600 persons during the entire project.

The team is comprised of a social worker, a housing/employment specialist, a peer support specialist and an occupational therapist. They will assist participants in finding stable and affordable housing and will teach them independent living skills that are necessary to maintain housing as well as manage health care needs.  They will also link participants to other resources for health care, insurance, Medicaid, and mainstream benefits from programs such as Supplemental Social Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

“We know that stable housing and other social and community factors are key drivers of health care costs as well as health outcomes and quality of life,” said John Gilmore, MD, director of the Center, vice chair, Research and Scientific Affairs and Eure Professor of Psychiatry, UNC Department of Psychiatry.

“I am excited that the Center is working with UNC’s School of Social Work, the Department of Allied Health, and our community partners to help address this problem and make a real difference in people’s lives,” Gilmore continues. “The Center and its treatment and rehabilitation programs will provide critical support to the program and the individuals served by it.”

The team, led by Janice Bainbridge, MSW, LSW, team lead for the Center’s Case Management program, will collaborate with local mental health providers including, Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness;  Chatham County Department of Social Services; Cardinal Innovations Healthcare plus the Center’s Community Resource Court of Orange and Chatham counties.

Antoine Bailliard, PhD, associate professor, Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, will integrate occupational therapy into the comprehensive services provided. Gary Cuddeback, PhD, MPH, MSW, director of the Center’s Community Outcomes Research and Evaluation (COREC), associate professor, UNC  School of Social Work and Psychiatry will direct evaluation and data collection for the project.

“In addition to providing direct services for those in need, the grant will provide training (internships) opportunities for UNC’s nursing, social work, clinical rehabilitation, counseling and rehabilitation, occupational therapy and psychology students,” said Mahadevan.

The UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health offers a continuum of care for individuals with serious mental illness at locations in Orange, Wake and Chatham counties. Last year, the Center provided more than 34,000 visits to individuals from more than a third of North Carolina counties. Additionally, the Center provides technical assistance for mental health professionals around the State through its NC Community Psychiatrists’ Leadership Network and the Institute for Best Practices.