Photo courtesy of Newport Mental Health

By Newport Mental Health

In a turn of events that began with an emergency plan to care for Newport’s homeless population during the pandemic last March, a promising new program has evolved, one that provides a pipeline of housing options and behavioral health services for individuals and families impacted by mental illness living on the street.

With a $475,000 grant from the Consolidated Homeless Fund, Newport Mental Health and housing advocates Jimmy and Barbara Winters of the Housing Hotline, and Executive Director Debbie Johnston of the McKinney Cooperative Shelter will work collaboratively to expand services for the homeless population.

“The funding helps us provide more housing services, increase shelter bed capacity during the winter and reduce the risk of the homeless population from contracting COVID-19,” said Jimmy Winters of the Housing Hotline and the Homelessness Collaborative serving Newport County. Winters added that the funding also provides a “pathway to permanent housing” for individuals who have had barriers to housing.

President and CEO Jamie Lehane of Newport Mental Health said the grant gives Newport Mental Health the capacity to form clinical teams who specialize in providing mental healthcare to the homeless. “With our partners, we’re able to provide the basic needs of food and shelter while engaging homeless individuals in behavioral health treatment and recovery.” In addition, Lehane said individuals will have seamless access to a broad range of evidenced-based behavioral health programs, work force development, 24/7 mobile crisis support and healthcare.

Newport Mental Health estimates that of the homeless individuals who were living on the streets at the beginning of the pandemic, 77 percent are now receiving substance use and/or mental health services. Local landlords are encouraged to contact Newport Mental Health if they are interested in partnering with the agency to provide 12 month leases and receive guaranteed market rate rents in return. “Behavioral health is a core component of leading a healthy life. It’s heartening to see growing financial support for Newport Mental Health’s care of Rhode Islanders struggling with depression, substance use disorder and other challenges,” said Zach Nieder, the Foundation’s strategic initiative officer for health.

“Treating the homeless population is not a binary issue. There are lots of greys, and lots of moving parts. Lehane noted that Newport Mental Health “continues to be inspired by the continued advocacy and client success of people like Barbara and Jimmy Winters.” 

Between the State of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Foundation, Newport Mental Health has received over $600,000 in state and federal dollars earmarked for collaborative work with local nonprofits to support the homeless population through COVID-19. “This incredible level of support is coming into our community because of the leadership that Jimmy and Barbara Winters have shown. They have given a voice to the underserved, worked tirelessly for decades when no one was watching, and continue to inspire our team with their unparalleled compassion,” said Lehane.