—by Matthew K. Weiland and Paul M. Kubek
Painesville, OH—Renee Molzon went into social work to help emotionally-disturbed children, never anticipating that her professional journey would land her beside homeless adults dealing with severe mental illness and addiction.
"I don't mind at all sitting in the cold with them just talking about the day," says Molzon, dual diagnosis case manager at NEIGHBORING, a mental-health and substance-abuse services organization in Lake County. "It provides me with an insight into the human heart and the human psyche. If people can trust and if people can see that they can be safe, they are likely to utilize that and make the most of it."
It's the perfect disposition for this work, and Molzon has, in a sense, become an ambassador for the importance of human connection and integrated treatment among the homeless population frequenting The Salvation Army in the City of Painesville. NEIGHBORING is partnering with 11 other organizations to provide a safe space for the homeless, not only a safe physical space but an emotional one as well. The shelter essentially functions as an access point for services such as meals, medical care, mental health care, and addiction services, among others. Learn more about the shelter.
Familiarity Leads To Trust
Molzon travels to The Salvation Army twice a week to provide outreach services, which include a peer-support social-skills group, assessment of mental health and substance abuse symptoms, and referral—if and when individuals express the interest or demonstrate a need. Through the referral services, she has become an emissary for Lake County's healthcare and behavioral healthcare systems.
Many homeless people have experienced a lot of rejection in their lives, having been removed from public places time and time again or even turned away from health and human services. Thus, they often mistrust others. As a way to minimize potentially defensive responses from consumers, Molzon uses the Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT) model's stage-wise approach to her work.
For instance, in the initial engagement stage, she focuses on getting to know someone. She doesn't show up with an agenda. And she doesn't come armed with sermons about the virtues of medication management and sobriety. She simply limits her conversations to each person's daily living needs and circumstances. She is quiet, non-intrusive, and allows people to gravitate to her over time. In other words, she enables them to develop a sense of familiarity with her, which eventually leads to them seeking trust. The method works, but Molzon insists that she is not responsible for making things happen: she is a conduit for people on their own recovery journeys.
When I first started going to the shelter, there were people who'd get up as soon as I walked in," Molzon recalls. "They'd say, ‘NEIGHBORING's here,' and they'd leave. I wouldn't say anything. I'd just let it happen. And I wouldn't say anything the next time I'd see them. Eventually, they would stop leaving. And eventually, they would start talking about whatever was on their mind."
Trust Leads To Assessment
Since Molzon is a licensed social worker and is trained to conduct assessments of mental-health and substance-abuse symptoms, she applies these skills during her interactions with the homeless. As a result, NEIGHBORING is able to use the outreach initiative at The Salvation Army as an opportunity for early identification and intervention.
"It's been a mutually good relationship," Molzon says about the community partnership at The Salvation Army, "and it's certainly gotten more clients in this community linked to—or at least closer to—the services."
Assessment Leads To Recovery
Dual Diagnosis Supervisor Deana Leber-George, MEd, PCC-S, agrees, adding that Molzon's presence has inspired consumers to transform their distrust into contemplation of the possibilities for recovery.
"Renee does a really great job of leaving it open," says Leber-George. "She's completely non-confrontational. This gets people involved. It gets the services to the people who might never ask for the help."
Matthew K. Weiland, MA, is senior writer, producer, and new-media specialist and Paul M. Kubek, MA, is director of communications at the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University.