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Pensacola's homeless could benefit from mental health assistance

Pensacola homeless camp
Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media
The homeless camp under the I-110 bridge was home for over 100 people at one time.

As the city of Pensacola addresses its homeless issues, one major question deals with the mental health of those being targeted.

A homeless summit was held in 2019, but little if any came of it. One of the participants was Dr. David Josephs — clinic director at Lakeview Center in Pensacola. He believes things are different three years later.

“I think there is greater consensus about the need to have a coordinated plan: great political will and greater desire by provider groups to help out,” he said.

Lakeview has been working with about a dozen individuals remaining after the encampment under Interstate-110 closed this week.

“The major thing we’ve been doing is establishing relationships with them, and also providing telehealth services,” said Josephs. “Hooking some people up with psychiatry [and] mental health services using phones; which for the homeless population and for this group, something we hope to do well into the future.”

The same issues that impact the homeless are the same as impacting those who are not homeless, says Josephs. Everyday stress, worries over finances, preexisting medical conditions, and mental health issues, to name a few. Treatment, in many cases, begins with figuring out how to get stuff done.

David Josephs 122319.jpg
Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Dr. Davis Josephs, Clinical Director, Lakeview Center

“Psychiatry services, access to medications, access to regular checkups for how you’re doing psychiatrically; changing medications if necessary, and then counseling services,” Josephs said. “Many people who are homeless with mental illness and substance-abuse issues qualify, but because they just don’t know how to negotiate stuff, it just doesn’t get done.”

Lakeview has been designated by Mayor Grover Robinson to be the tip of the spear in dealing with mental health issues afflicting Pensacola’s homeless. To that end, he’s calling on the state of Florida to provide additional funding for such programs.

“Mental health funding generally comes from the state; and I would say for a long time local government — cities and counties — have complained that more money needs to be placed into mental health funding for these varieties of issues,” said the mayor. “I think you’re going to see that need continue.”

What’s not known at this point is how much of what was learned in 2019, can translate to addressing homelessness in 2022 — and what form could that take?

“All of us have been pressed into doing some things that are a little bit unusual — maybe not normal — but we have to find a way to find out to serve individuals, said Robinson. “Our expectation is that Lakeview will be creative in trying to figure out what they can do to service individuals. That’s the gist of my conversation with Dr. Josephs.”

Another issue raised in the summit three years ago was panhandling, and the search for a better way that doesn’t involve violating the city ordinance. John Johnson with the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, speaking back then.

“Continuing to provide $5 to a person standing on the corner, is not the way out of homelessness. It is a business enterprise, that people who are homeless, and those that are transient, they’ll continue to do,” said Johnson. “Which is why every time you go to the street corner you see the same person.”

Johnson, who was not available to be interviewed for this story, touched on a half dozen or so areas at the 2019 summit, such as the elimination of cost components in dealing with the homeless, including at hospital emergency rooms and local jails.

“Fund a $5 bond — or less than a $100 bond — they’re in jail, at the cost of about $70 per day,” Johnson said. “So a possible solution would be, what is a safe way to discharge those folks into the care of a program that helps with reentry?”

Homeless individuals improving their mental health, says the Lakeview Center’s Dr. David Josephs, is at the top of the list of priorities.

“The one thing we walk around with all day long is the one brain we have and how well, or not well, that brain functions,” Josephs said. “Many of the homeless actually have friends and family who would take them in. And so if the brain is functioning better, if folks are not using substances and [are] not volatile, many would find shelter actually with family. Actually, it’s the family who has kept them alive in many cases.”

As 2022 unfolds, a number of programs and projects to help the homeless with their mental health issues are either on the drawing board or close to implementation. Josephs was asked what he hopes everyone will take away from them.

“That we do not duplicate efforts, since monies are scarce; and that we have the things that will provide the most results,” he said. “Sometimes, we don’t know what each other is doing, and I think the partnerships there will help with that so we’ll be more efficient. And if we’re more efficient, hopefully more effective.”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.