Archive for category: Blog

Homeless Safety a Heightened Issue During Summer Months

By David T. Jones
Acting Commissioner,

Summer is here –- at last -– and for many people, thoughts turn to fun family getaways, sitting out by the pool or on the beach and sweet treats like ice cream or water ice to cool us down. But for people who are living on the street, these options of summer escapes aren’t so readily accessible.

Hundreds of people experience periods of street homelessness in Philadelphia, using street corners, transit hubs and parks as shelter. Heavily-traveled areas, particularly in and around Center City, reveal the faces of this sad reality. And while being homeless can be devastating enough for an individual, the problem is only compounded for those who are also living with an untreated mental illness, addiction, or both.

The dangers of living on the street are plentiful and troubling, and each season of the year presents a unique set of challenges that heighten public concern for the safety and welfare of the homeless. Rising temperatures and high levels of humidity pose a threat to the homeless during the summer months when consecutive days of excessively hot weather can cause city officials to declare a Code Red emergency.

Even in the absence of a Code Red, individuals experiencing street homelessness during the summer are exposed to the risk of potentially dangerous health problems due to the elements, including:

  • Hyperthermia caused by too many layers. Often those who have behavioral health or substance use issues wear too many clothes, even during warm-weather months
  • Sunburn and photosensitivity caused by too much exposure to the sun
  • Lyme disease and other conditions caused by insect bites
  • Difficulty breathing due to poor air-quality, triggering asthma and other conditions

The Office of Homeless Services, in collaboration with DBHIDS and dozens of provider agencies, does a commendable job year-round to support individuals who are chronically homeless, getting them into shelters, transitioning them into housing, and directing those struggling with addiction to treatment while also connecting them with other resources for the homeless.

Day in, day out, our Homeless Outreach workers are deployed to assigned zones where humane and personalized outreach and support are their top priorities. Our team of dedicated and compassionate professionals strives to build relationships with those who are experiencing chronic street homelessness, helping them overcome their obstacles and reluctance to coming off the street, getting them into shelters and safe havens, and directing those struggling with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health challenges to treatment, such as the Journey of Hope Project, or connecting them with other homeless resources. Essentially, our homeless outreach staff acts as a bridge to a life beyond homelessness.

If you are concerned about how the weather may impact individuals who are living on the street and displaying behavioral health challenges, you can help by doing the following:

  • Call the 24/7 Homeless Outreach hotline at 215-232-1984 to report a sighting
  • As an alternative to money, offer cool bottled water
  • In an emergency call 911 if an individual appears to be in danger

The issue of homelessness wasn’t created overnight and neither will the solution, but we are committed to doing all we can to ensure that homeless individuals with behavioral health challenges have access to the services along with the supported housing they deserve.

Inform, Encourage, Provide: Steps We Can Take to Help Our Youth

By Lawrence A. Real, MD
Chief Medical Officer,

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and as we celebrate recovery, we strive to increase awareness and work to end stigma around mental health. Through the offering of comprehensive services, resources, and access to behavioral healthcare, we have a strong commitment to helping youth, adults, and families in greatest need, especially as the rates of reported mental health challenges continue to rise, especially among our youth.

Last week was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and now, more than ever, it’s critical that we all take some time to pay attention to the emotional health and well-being of our children.

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Peer to Peer: Meeting Those in Need Where They Are

Ramon Cruz

After more than three decades of substance use, Ramon Cruz decided to seek recovery and now is working with DBHIDS’ Certified Peer Specialist program, helping others access support for recovery.

By Monica Lewis-Wilborn

Ramon Cruz was tired.

He was tired of being in and out of trouble with the law. He was tired of disappointing his family. He was tired of letting his life spin out of control.

It was in that time of despair, when he was at his weakest point, that Ramon found the strength to take charge of his life and find a way to recovery after more than 30 years of substance use and numerous incarcerations. That was two years ago and today, Ramon, 53, is not just off of drugs, but he’s a part of our Certified Peer Specialist program with Community Behavioral Health (CBH), the managed care arm of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) that serves as a voice for and resource to those impacted by behavioral health issues. Each day, Ramon uses his story to help others who find themselves on the same path to nowhere he traveled for so long.

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