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"It's not only seeing but being there to listen," Homeless population finds local mental health resources

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Posted at 7:24 PM, May 29, 2024

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Mental Health Awareness Month is coming to a close, but mental health impacts people each and every day. St. Matthew's House wants the homeless community in Immokalee to know they can help with those challenges not just this month but all year round.

Affordable housing options aren't easy to find in Immokalee and living conditions aren't much better.

"It can be very, very overwhelming to look at your living situation and how run down and difficult it might be to work up the place you've been living in or realize that your homeless altogether," Jessica Slater said.

Slater got her Master's degree in social work and now works with St. Matthews House, but before that, she was in one of their programs.

She believes mental health can be an underlying cause with people experiencing homelessness.

"You would find quite a bit of our population does have mental health issues that are either unaddressed and that's why they're experiencing chronic homelessness," she said.

That's where St. Matthews Immokalee Friendship House and its manager Simon Maier help out.

Maier said, "We are trying to help people get back on their feet so getting their mental health in order."

Case managers evaluate the person's needs, and then they can go to a group therapy session.

"Very often, it's the first time things are coming to light," he added.

And the goal becomes, helping the person find a path to stability.

Staff has mental health first aid training, so they look out for signs of panic attacks, depression, trauma and suicidal ideation.

Maier said, "It's not only seeing but being there to listen."

Possibly, a resident's path means connecting them to a local partner like Project Help or The David Lawrence Center.

Most importantly for this migrant community, the Immokalee Friendship House is bilingual, so Spanish speakers can get the same care as anyone else.

"I would say there's a real upside to being homeless in that area because the services are there already," Slater said.