Drop-In Peer Centers Part Two: History and Funding

Last month, I wrote about my drop in center, Rebel’s Drop In, which offers peer mentoring, art classes, outings, and other activities.  What would it take to start one?  

What is peer mentoring?

A peer is someone who has personal experience living with mental illness.  Seventy eight comparative research studies that I read prove that peer mentoring is astoundingly effective in a number of ways.  I got this information from two articles. The first is an April 2014 article from the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. It’s titled, “Peer Support: Why It Works.” The second group of studies cited come from Mark S. Salzer’s 2010 paper: “Certified Peer Specialists in the United States Behavioral Health System: An Emerging Workforce.” I’m sure there are even more.  One of studies in particular is about the cost effectiveness of this approach, reducing the amount of crises requiring inpatient confinement. So if you were going to approach a local public hospital that treats the uninsured and the indigent, this study would be of interest to them.  Bluntly put, this and other evidence-based comparative studies proves that by supporting a center, maybe by providing space or funds, that over time, they will save lots of money and be able to count it.  Drop-ins have been proven to improve quality of life and even save lives, something of interest to a possible private donor.    

How is it funded?

Here’s how the movement legitimized itself, opening the door for funding.  In 2001, Georgia became the first state to specifically identify peer mentoring and support as a Medicaid reimbursable service. Other states, but not all, have followed suit.   

In 2007,  Dennis B Smith, the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid explained it as an “evidence-based” mental health model of care that consists of a qualified peer support provider who assists individuals with their recovery from mental illness and substance abuse disorders. In my opinion, it’s a win-win endeavor. 

Federal funds are available through Samsa. If you Google Samsa, the prompt for ‘grants and funding’ is on the first page. When you click that, the easy instructions on ‘how to’ fill out an application for grants displays with the bright, easy-to-understand application itself. There is grant-based funding at the city, county, or state level depending on where you live.  

How did my center get started?

I sat down with Kay, my center’s project director. She is a peer mentor and manages the other peer mentors. She oversees the volunteer program and other curriculum. A little known but important fact about Kay: She started and nurtured the area’s only Schizophrenics Anonymous self-help group. This has taken conviction and time. Kay’s very interesting, and was kind enough to sit down with me and give me background on our center. She has a stout skill set and many personal achievements. For her, it’s been a journey.

“I was on disability for six years, but always wanted to go back to work.” She worked part-time in the kitchen at the Buddhist Conference center, finding the beliefs enriching and helpful. 

“The Buddhist practice definitely had a transformational effect on my life,” she said. “It was very positive.” The next stop was two years of part-time work at MHA, while volunteering at another local drop in center. In 2003, she was hired full-time to work at Rebel’s Drop-In, in Hollywood, Florida. While working full-time at Rebel’s she went back to school, earning a Master’s degree in counseling and is now a licensed LMHC. She mentioned that the hospital helped her to do that.     

“The beauty of a hospital affiliation is that we can offer a continuum of care to someone who might need a higher level of care,” she said. “Our psychiatrists and therapists are here on site to evaluate and facilitate that.” The volunteer program offers many opportunities for consumers to do something positive with their lives, in addition to socialization. Isolation, which can be a symptom of some mental health problems, can perpetuate the problem itself.

Rebel’s opened in 2001 with the help of a consumer advocate and a contribution from a private donor. The space was provided by a local hospital. Grants helped provide the additional funding needed to operate the center in its early years.  

“Our Grants have only gone up over time. I’ve hired more mentors and offer more programs,” Kay said. “Doesn’t this seem unique in these eras of budget cuts?”    

“It’s exceptional, in any political environment.  Part of it is that I am a meticulous record keeper. That’s the key in any grant-funded environment.”  At that moment the doorbell rang. She relaxed and leaned back, shooting a glance all the way through the door to the group room, around the reception desk to the front door. Her smile reached up to her eyes. 

“This is the best chair in the room to sit. At any time I can always see who is trying to get in and go open the door for them.” She got up from her seat and did just that. 

In my next post I will write about a free-standing drop in called Nine Muses and how they got started. 

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