Reducing Barriers with Innovative On-site Mental Health Care

Outside of Our Saviour's Housing Emergency Shelter

At Our Saviour’s Community Services, we are always looking for opportunities to enrich the quality of services we offer. In early 2024, our Emergency Shelter seized an opportunity to do just that, launching a 12-month pilot mental health initiative that provides guests at our shelter with access to on-site mental health services. This innovative new service offering is provided in partnership with People Incorporated, Minnesota’s largest non-profit mental health provider. A grant from the Medica Foundation provided key funding, launching the first year of the new partnership. 

Around two thirds of adults experiencing homelessness in Minnesota report having a severe mental illness1. Mental health conditions are common contributors to housing instability, and the trauma and stress of experiencing homelessness can significantly impact mental health. While some of our guests receive mental health care, they often face barriers when accessing care or maintaining a relationship with a provider. Appointments accessible to our participants may be booked months out, resulting in needs for emergency care. Plus, transportation, cost of care, insurance challenges, and changes to addresses or phone numbers can all add barriers to seeking and maintaining care with a provider they feel comfortable with. 

We also observed that untreated mental health conditions sometimes prevented guests in our medical respite program from seeking medical attention for physical health conditions. It became clear to our staff that clearing a pathway to access to mental health care would decrease barriers for guests to achieve their overall well-being goals and maximize benefits of the medical respite services. 

The new services bring a fresh dose of energy and optimism to the shelter. “I’m excited to know the long-term impacts of having mental health services in the space,” says Our Saviour’s Housing Director La’Quadra Neal. “We have had dreams of adding mental health services in our shelter for years and now the dream is a reality.” 

Kristi sits at her desk at the shelter

Kristi Betker, who works for People Incorporated, sits at her desk at Our Saviour’s Housing Emergency Shelter, where she provides shelter guests with mental health services each week.

To provide direct care for guests, mental health professional Kristi Betker from People Incorporated serves at our shelter for eight hours each week and provides a variety of services to guests that might be difficult for them to access off-site, including one-to-one therapy, crisis counseling, and care coordination. She finds it rewarding to reduce barriers for accessing mental health with guests. “Seeing the big gaps for people in the homeless community and in the shelter system, there are not enough resources for mental health,” says Kristi. “To be able to provide that right on-site reduces lots of hoops to jump through.” 

In addition to the direct services, the grant from the Medica Foundation also supports OSCS in building capacity in our shelter team to better support guests with mental health conditions through specialized training. Expanding staff training will help build capacity with handling severe and persistent mental health concerns at the shelter as we continue to embrace principles of harm reduction and trauma-informed care. 

This new effort means that the Our Saviour’s Housing Emergency Shelter offers both mental and physical health services on site, furthering our ability to help guests pursue their goals related to long-term well-being and housing stability. “It feels like we are slowly becoming a one-stop facility in which participants can have all of their needs met,” says La’Quadra. “My hope is that this turns from a pilot to a regular service for clients ongoing, and to expand to the entire housing program including our onsite housing and scattered site participants.” 

  1. Data is from the 2018 Minnesota Homeless Study from Wilder Research.