Ocean County program has saved 100 people from homelessness
Video courtesy of Ocean Mental Health Services
In Ocean County, two mental health service agencies are responsible for running local chapters of a vital federal program. The initiative is called PATH, or Progressive Assistance to Transition from Homelessness.
One of the groups, Ocean Mental Health Services, has just produced a video shot in the Toms River area. It attempts to convey to the public exactly what PATH aims to accomplish, namely helping those who are homeless or who face impending homelessness.
"We don't actually have our own housing, but we do linkage and advocacy with available resources for housing," said Tom Finnerty, OMHS outreach services coordinator. With PATH, OMHS also offers avenues to alcohol and/or drug treatment, and of course, mental health services where appropriate.
A lot of the program is centered around outreach: taking referrals, spreading by word of mouth, even going out into the woods to look for those who may be holed up in tents. Caseworkers meet with the homeless people the program uncovers, taking them through a screening process and in many cases, assessing severe and persistent mental illness.
One of PATH's constant partners is the Ocean County Board of Social Services, which Finnerty calls the "first line of defense" in matching the homeless with solutions that fit their specific needs.
"Some people are already linked (to housing), but many people aren't," he said. "They need to get back on medication, see a psychiatrist or a therapist, things like that."
Finnerty said PATH's outreach is crucial even at a time when a yearly survey, the Point in Time Count, is being rolled out again in New Jersey this week. Aside from potential weather-related pitfalls inherent in doing that survey in January, he said there are many "invisible homeless" who don't want to be picked up for one reason or another, and may be "count-surfing."
Also, some people suffering with various degrees of mental illness may be guarded about their true living conditions, hesitant to fully disclose the details of their current situation.
According to the OMHS video, the agency has enrolled 109 individuals in PATH since July 2015, with 64 receiving permanent housing.
For more information, call the OMHS Access Center at 732-575-1111, the toll-free number for all mental health services at 877-621-0445, or the OMHS direct line, 732-269-4849, ext. 640.
More from New Jersey 101.5: