When the board of directors of Action Inc., an anti-poverty agency that helps people in need on the North Shore, determined that the agency's most significant unmet need was mental health counseling specifically for substance abuse in its shelters, Derr seemed like the perfect fit for the job.
She was, and thanks to a stimulus grant, the position became hers.
Recovery Act Impact: Action Inc.
Action received a total of nearly $9 million in stimulus funds, with $459,000 as a Community Services Block grant. Derr's position, which was funded as part of that grant, means that people in Action's emergency homeless shelter who require mental health and substance abuse counseling have immediate access to that service.
"The board absolutely saw that there was a need for my positions," said Derr. "They were inundated with people wanting counseling help."
Derr noted that because she is available on site - she gets to the shelter at 6:15 AM so she can be there as people wake up - she is able to establish a rapport and trust with her clients and help them much more effectively. "If somebody is looking for detox, we'll get them going right away," she said. "The whole trick is having somebody on site, ready to help them get into treatment when they get up and are motivated." According to Derr, people who are homeless often feel stigmatized and are extremely hesitant to access support services. The most significant diagnosis she sees, she said, is post traumatic stress disorder.
Derr pointed out that every hour of her day is booked - she sees at least 30 clients a week and that's not including the emergencies. She has many success stories, she said, noting that one client who had been chronically homeless and had a substance abuse issue with alcohol recently called her to tell her that he wanted to come to the shelter and help with a project to plant a community garden there. His drinking was under control, he is living in transitional housing and he works on the docks.
Another one of Derr's clients went to Alcoholic's Anonymous and then got into a substance abuse program and worked hard on his recovery. He is now attending college. Another client struggled with mental health issues stemming from childhood trauma was able to learn how to control her anger and function in group settings. She has moved out of the shelter and is now living in subsidized housing, looking for work.
"If they can have someone in their place where they have their coffee and have time with that person it's a bridge to the world," said Derr.