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Kim Tope is a licensed master social worker and a certified anger resolution therapist. More pertinent to her current role at The Harris Center, Kim is also a certified peer specialist who uses her own lived experience in recovery from mental illness to help those who find themselves in need of support and treatment through a one-of-a-kind program in Texas known as The P.E.E.R.S. for Hope House.
“I never dreamed a job would exist for which a qualification is having a mental health diagnosis. My past crises and struggles have become opportunities to create and sustain relationships with peers who stay with us as Guests,” said Kim.
This voluntary residential program of The Harris Center opened in September 2016, and it provides person-centered, engaging, empowering and recovery-oriented support to Guests in crisis who, without this level of care, might require a more traditional psychiatric hospitalization. The goal of the program is simple yet innovative: to provide services in a supportive, non-judgmental setting by professional peer staff who have lived experience in recovery from mental illness.
Focused on overall wellness, The P.E.E.R.S. for Hope House aims to address the immediate needs of individuals who find themselves experiencing an increase in symptoms and a need for additional supports but who have not yet reached a need for hospitalization. Peer staff listen to and work with Guests individually and in small groups to create Wellness and Recovery Action Plans and to strengthen necessary coping skills so that they may return to their everyday lives better equipped to deal with their mental illness and continue working toward recovery.
The unique nature of this program was highlighted during its recent open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony. Those in attendance had the opportunity to tour The P.E.E.R.S. for Hope House as well as hear from the peer staff and former Guests who have benefited from this and other programs of The Harris Center. Attendees included representatives from the offices of Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle and State Representative Jessica Farrar. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee personally toured the house and spent time visiting with the staff and Guests. In addition, she presented The P.E.E.R.S. for Hope House with a Congressional Certificate of Recognition in honor of its opening.
As Kim sees it, the open house was an opportunity for the community to see what she, her fellow staff members and their Guests affectionately refer to as “our house.” “It was amazing to host people in our house last Friday,” said Kim. “Seeing so many positive reactions during tours was very exciting for all of us, even our Guests who participated. I feel as if most of these visitors arrived as curious and perhaps confused at who we are. When they left our house, they had an understanding of an entirely different concept in mental health, and many expressed enthusiasm for helping us to spread the word.”
For many of us, the chance to sit down and visit with family and friends over a cup of coffee is a cherished tradition. Whether the conversation is about work, hobbies or the latest reality television show, it is a way to form and maintain connections with others.
April 6, 2017 was one of those California-weather-like days in Houston with a bright sky and breeze just right as a crowd gathered for the grand opening of the new home of the Houston Furniture Bank, a long-time partner of The Harris Center. The large new building contains an entire warehouse of furniture, a mattress recycling area, a retail outlet and the big hearts of the Houston Furniture Bank employees.
Getting to this point was no small feat. Two and a half decades of hard work, innovation and partnership have allowed the Houston Furniture Bank to serve families throughout Harris County, including quite a few consumers of The Harris Center.
The connection between the Houston Furniture Bank and The Harris Center goes back to 1992 when a housing support employee at The Harris Center, then the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA) of Harris County, saw a void in consumers’ residences. There were no beds, tables, chairs, sofas or other signs that they were actually homes. That employee, Oli Mohammed, had an idea. What if the Agency found donated furniture to turn these houses into homes? With the support of the Agency’s executive director, Dr. Steven Schnee, he began what became the MHMRA of Harris County Furniture Bank. “If Dr. Schnee didn’t see the virtue in this, the furniture bank wouldn’t exist,” said Mohammed.
The COVID-19 disaster is having a detrimental impact on the ability of homeless individuals with mental illness to find a safe place to shelter following stabilization and discharge from inpatient crisis psychiatric treatment.
Representative Garnet Coleman proposed utilizing an existing state Healthy Community Collaborations grant to enable three local organizations to provide transition shelter and supporting services for homeless people who have mental illness. The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center and Open Door Mission will join forces to open a 24-hour facility with 28 beds.
All of us need support from time to time. Whether we need to have a good cry or a good laugh, knowing we have someone to turn to in a time of crisis is a comfort many of us take for granted.
For individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), finding that help is not always easy. The same is true for those who serve as caregivers for loved ones with IDD. At The Harris Center, the IDD Intensive Needs Program is available to help provide the support and compassion that many need.
While the IDD Intensive Needs Program provides community-based supports throughout Harris County, it also has a component that focuses on providing crisis care. Implemented in 2016 as an initiative of the State of Texas and led by Clinical Team Leader Amanda Willis, LCSW-S, the three person staff is composed of master level clinicians who provide assessments, support and linkage to on-going community-based services for individuals with IDD who find themselves in a crisis.
Anyone who has lived in Houston for a little over a week has come across people who speak a language other than English. As one of the most diverse cities of the world, Houston is home to people from all the continents, and a substantial portion of them are not fluent in English. These individuals make up a significant amount of Harris Center clientele.
Jail Re-Entry Program: Mr. Simon* is an Iraq War veteran who was referred to us by Brothers in Arms, a program assisting veterans at the Harris County jail. Shortly before Mr. Simon was released, we offered him a bed at our new Jail Re-Entry program during the time Veterans Affairs coordinated permanent housing for him. Mr. Simon was admitted to our program on Jan. 11 this year.
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The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD strives to provide high quality, efficient, and cost effective services so that persons with mental disabilities may live with dignity as fully functioning, participating, and contributing members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay based on a sliding scale rate schedule.
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