Workers Bring Mental Health Care, Medication To Homeless In Miami


A partnership between advocates for the homeless, city outreach workers and a health center is helping mentally ill people living on the streets of Miami access the medication they need for a better future.

The bring-the-clinic-to-them approach, which began last year, has been dubbed the Lazarus Project and combines the efforts of city homeless-outreach workers, advocates from the Miami Coalition for the Homeless and medical practitioners from the Camillus House, a health and social services agency. On a daily basis, teams tour downtown Miami in a van, seeking out some of the city’s most vulnerable homeless individuals.

The project started by identifying nine chronically homeless people living in Miami and spent a month getting to know them and explaining the program, which entails the team diagnosing participants, keeping a close eye on them and supplying them with and ensuring they take their medication, according to the Associated Press. The eventual goal is to get them off the streets.

Seven people from that initial group of would-be clients signed up and more have followed over the past year.

And though the project’s clients often had long histories of arrests and hospitalizations, only a few participants in the program have returned to either a jail or hospital.

Most of the participants, instead, are receiving the mental health treatment they need and are either awaiting benefits or a placement, or have already moved off the streets and into a shelter, the AP reports. One of the project’s first clients went from living under the Flagler Street bridge to working a construction job and living in a Camillus-subsidized apartment.

Mental illness is an all-too-common struggle among America’s homeless. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 30 percent of chronically homeless people currently have a mental health condition and over 60 percent have experienced mental health problems at some point in their lifetime.

As noted by the National Coalition for the Homeless, mental illness has been cited as the third most common cause of homelessness as severe mental health issues impact a person’s ability to take care of essential aspects of their day-to-day life and can be linked with difficulty maintaining relationships with family, friends and caregivers who might otherwise prevent an individual from becoming homeless.

The Miami project is just one example of a strategy to get America’s mentally ill homeless population connected with treatment and into stable housing. Another, the “housing first” approach, puts homeless individuals into housing before treating medical or mental health issues they are dealing with.

At the local level, Houston has seen a 45 percent drop in its homeless population in just four years thanks in part to the Way Home, a housing first action plan that prioritized the creation of permanent housing units for the city’s homeless.

Though such programs are saving the federal government millions of dollars annually -- multiple analyses have shown that housing the homeless is dramatically cheaper than letting them remain homeless -- housing first initiatives have struggled to attain the level of political and financial support needed to keep up with the level of need, according to a 2014 story in USA Today.

Over the past eight years, chronic homelessness among Americans has declined by 53 percent nationally, while homelessness among veterans has dropped by a third. Meanwhile, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged to an all-time high.

This article has been updated to include additional information about the role of city outreach employees in the partnership.