From left, TPC’s Kelly Townsend with case manager Brooke Armstrong and program director Greg Davenport hosting guests at the shelter. Courtesy photo
Since its founding in 1971, The Psychological Center (TPC) in Lawrence has been dedicated to helping people overcome mental health, substance abuse and related issues with respect for the needs of the individual and without judgement. Over the years, though, the main emphasis of the program has changed. “We closed our counseling center so we could dedicate our resources to the addiction crisis and homelessness,” said Director of Corporate and Community Engagement, Kelly Townsend.
The program now includes three separate facilities, Daybreak Shelter, Pegasus House and Women’s View, each with its own unique services, designed to promote long term success and end the cycle of addiction and homelessness once and for all.
“I’ve seen people in the last year who I’ve known to be chronically homeless who have moved on because of this system, and now they have their own apartments,” said Townsend.
The 49 year-old Haverhill resident said that she, herself, has lost seven friends to drug overdoses.
After her daughter was born 20 years ago, she started working in non-profit organizations because she “wanted to make the world a better place.” She is sometimes shocked by the hateful comments she sees on the TPC Facebook feed, proving that a stigma still exists that vilifies those who are struggling with these issues.
A portrait of success: Ed, seen here with case manager Brooke Armstrong, came to Daybreak homeless and in serious need of a safe haven. He had his struggles, but hung in there and got back on his feet. He recently visited the shelter on his birthday to say thanks and to renew friendships he made as a guest and as a volunteer. Courtesy photo
“We’re just not there yet,” Townsend said. “We have to educate people. Not all addicts are folks who said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go do drugs!’ People just aren’t up to date on who’s at risk, which is everybody.”
Townsend said she has even experienced situations where children were given drugs regularly by their parents from a young age to control them.
“Some of them talk about it with a level of normalcy that’s scary,” she said.
One of the biggest barriers to treatment is that “there are never enough beds for people,” said Townsend. “The problem has gotten so big so quickly, we just haven’t caught up with it yet.”
Program Director Greg Davenport said they received a grant last year that allowed TPC to change their program from a standard 30-day treatment program to a more unique transitional program – one of only three in the state – which allows people to go in under the influence of drugs or alcohol, whereas most shelters require that a client detox before entering.
The rule can be a barrier for people who need more support during those initial stages of recovery. The approach taken by TPC allows clients access to a greater range of services and a continuity of care that is not found in the short-term detox facilities.
“I was actually a guest at the Daybreak Shelter in 2009 and I became an in-house volunteer,” said Davenport. “They gave me an opportunity to change my life and be a part of it. Daybreak and The Psychological Center are a huge part of my transition to where I’m at today.”
Davenport is pleased with the direction the program has taken and was more than happy to accept the position of program director. “We created a platform for people to help themselves,” he said. “I wake up every day and I’m happy to go to work.”
To anyone still out there seeking the path to recovery, Davenport has this message.
“Don’t give up on yourself. When people are trying to help you, let them help you,” he said. But he acknowledges that there is a shortage of treatment options available.
“Sometimes people have depression, anxiety, bi-polar, and it can take 90 days to get [a medication evaluation] and by then, they’re gone,” he said.
Townsend said that even a person who is suicidal can wait as long as four months to get a visit with a therapist. This should not deter anyone from taking that first step, though. Davenport urges any adult with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder to call TPC at 978-975-4547.
“You’ll get one of the staff on the phone [24/7] and they’ll ask you the questions that need to be asked and if we have a bed, you’ll get it. Anything you need. We are [people] who know how to get somebody help somewhere,” he said.
Some reimbursement comes from the state, but the program also relies on private donations and fundraising events to help defer the cost. Last year, the program held three successful Gala events to raise funds that allowed the women to participate in activities outside of the shelter life to reinforce the joy that can be found in sobriety.
The Galas include guest speakers that showcase people successfully navigating recovery to further help break down the stigma associated with these diseases by giving them a name and a face. TPC’s next big event is their second annual Kentucky Event, the Cinco de Derby, on Saturday May 5. Videos of these stories and poems from past clients and information on the May 5 is available on TPC’s website, psychologicalcenter.com.
Given the history of care for those struggling with mental illness, Davenport said, “It’s better than it was. I guess you could say we’re on the right path,” but there is clearly still much work to be done.
“I’ll be happy when nobody lives on the street or under a bridge,” said Townsend. “I think it’s ridiculous that it’s a topic we have to talk about – people living outside like animals.”
The Psychological Center offers help with everything from obtaining identification, to finding a job and developing life skills. In addition to having a network of referral services throughout the Merrimack Valley, TPC operates three separate facilities:
Daybreak Shelter provides a hot meal, warm shower and a safe place to sleep for anyone experiencing homelessness. It’s a 50-bed transitional shelter where each individual has access to advocacy. One goal of the Daybreak Shelter, according to Townsend, is to “help change perception of who is at risk of becoming homeless and who suffers from addiction and mental health issues.”
Pegasus House is a 15-bed residential drug and alcohol treatment and recovery program for women ages 18-25 with a flexible length of stay based on the needs of each woman. The program aims to expand the life skills and educational opportunities for women and decrease the rate of relapse by offering self-help skills and social activities in a youth development framework.
Women’s View is a 15-bed residential drug and alcohol treatment and recovery program for women over the age of 25. Women generally stay for a six months, during which time they are expected to begin work, volunteering, or educational pursuits so they can begin learning how to balance the stress of daily life while maintaining sobriety, while still within the structure and safety of the program.
A YEAR OF PROGRESS AND HELPING HANDS
It’s hard to break down any one thing The Psychological Center does, so we thought we’d put some numbers to what they did in 2017 alone:
- Served 13,502 meals at Daybreak Shelter
- Celebrated 34 program graduations from Pegasus House and Women’s View
- 34 graduates of financial literacy program, 21 women opened bank accounts
- Assisted 19 individuals in attaining Veteran’s Benefits
- Provided 487 individual medical services onsite at Daybreak Shelter via collaboration with Greater Lawrence Family Health Center
- Distributed 43,000 bags of hygiene products
- Aided 78 individuals with substance abuse/detox referrals
- Assisted 423 individuals in obtaining health insurance