In February, ShelterCare hosted a trio of social service leaders from Corvallis who were on a fact-finding mission to see how housing and supportive services were being used to address homelessness in Lane County. The group was impressed with ShelterCare’s wide array of services but it was obvious that one program stood out in their minds from the rest: the Uhlhorn Program for survivors of acquired brain injury. They didn’t realize that such a unique and innovative program existed anywhere, let alone in the Willamette Valley.
Theirs was a common reaction for people who first hear about the Uhlhorn Program, which has been quietly changing lives for more than 26 years. The program is not a treatment facility. Instead, it provides independent living and supportive services in an apartment community specially designed to serve the needs of adults impacted by brain injury.
Programs like this are not common but they are necessary. In the United States, more than 2.2 million people are treated for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) every year. More than 5 million Americans are living with TBI-related disabilities, which can include mobility and memory impairment, communication problems and a host of behavioral issues, including depression and paranoia.
The Uhlhorn Program fills an existing gap in housing and services for TBI survivors. What happens when people recover to the point where they want more independence but need support for daily living? Assisted living facilities provide too much support but not enough independence and are a costly option. Moving in with family members who lack the expertise or time to provide the necessary support is less costly but not a good fit for many people. That’s where the Uhlhorn Program comes in.
The program was developed by its namesake, Bill Uhlhorn, ShelterCare’s visionary executive director in the 1970s and 1980s. He fought a long battle to build a home for the program on the former Lincoln School property in Eugene. Eventually, he pulled together a group of community-minded partners, obtained funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and started construction. The first tenants arrived in 1990—sadly, just months after Uhlhorn passed away.
Despite Bill’s death, the program thrived and his legacy remains strong in 2017. The program, funded primarily by a contract with the State of Oregon, now has two complexes providing 39 apartments for brain injury survivors. The overarching goal is to help clients move forward with their individualized recovery plans and achieve greater independence. Though the housing is permanent and clients can stay as long as they want, many choose to move to new housing options as they become more independent.
The Uhlhorn Program apartments are specially designed to meet the needs of people with short-term memory problems; features include open cabinets and timer-controlled cooktops. Staff is present seven days per week, providing counseling, advocacy and skills training designed to meet the individual need of each tenant. Counselor/Advocates help tenants with a variety of issues from medication management to personal finance to meal planning and preparation.
Lane County is grappling with a challenging homelessness problem, so it is natural to ask how the Uhlhorn Program fits in as a solution—the answer is “very well.” TBIs are thought to be a significant but underreported cause of homelessness. Studies in the UK and Canada have found that 45 to 70 percent of homeless adults have suffered a severe head injury earlier in their lives. Underreporting results because many brain injury survivors exhibit symptoms that are often mistaken for mental illness.
While a history of homelessness is not a requirement, many formerly homeless individuals join the Uhlhorn Program as part of their journey off the streets. It is common for other ShelterCare programs that serve homeless adults to refer new residents to Uhlhorn when people are discovered to have a brain injury in their medical history.
Looking forward, ShelterCare is hoping to enhance and expand the Uhlhorn Program. While there are no plans to develop new apartment complexes, it might be possible to offer Uhlhorn support services to brain injury victims living elsewhere in the community. Plus, Bill Uhlhorn’s vision will continue to spread beyond Lane County, as communities in other states use the Uhlhorn Program as a model and take steps to house and support their own survivors of acquired brain injury.
Ellen Winchester, Residential Specialist (L), and Kitti Wood-McCord, Peer Support Specialist (R), help young adults find stable housing
In October, ShelterCare launched a new housing program for young adults (18-24) who are homeless or imminently homeless and also living with a serious mental illness. Many left home due to family instability or because their family could not provide assistance with their mental health diagnosis.
The program was started with a grant from the State of Oregon to provide housing and services for 15 young adults. To date, we have moved four young people into housing and are working with four more to locate affordable housing.
Securing housing for this age group can be challenging, as most have no credit or rental history. They also struggle to find housing because they don’t have someone (like a parent) who can co-sign a lease to help build their rental history. That’s where ShelterCare can be of great assistance.
Each young adult in our program is paired with a Residential Specialist and a Peer Support Specialist. Ellen Winchester, our Residential Specialist, works with clients to find a perfect housing match. She works with landlords throughout the community that are willing to rent directly to our clients. ShelterCare can also create a master lease agreement with landlords. The process of finding a good housing match can be long, as Lane County is experiencing a shortage in affordable housing, so our team also provides encouragement to our clients as they experience the ups and downs of finding a place of their own.
By providing a safe place to live and building daily living skills, the chances are better that these young adults will become thriving members of the community.
“I enjoy working with the young adults because they are so full of hope,” Ellen says. “They have dreams and goals, and I can help them reach those goals by giving them a strong foundation.”
Once the young adults are housed, Kitti Wood-McCord, Peer Support Specialist, helps them identify and work toward their goals, such as volunteering, going back to school or getting a job, and then she helps them understand how important stable housing is to achieving their goals. She also helps clients learn how to live on their own, as most of them have never managed a household before.
The future is bright for this program and for the new residents who are working on creating stable futures for themselves.
Watch a recent KMTR news story about the housing shortage in Lane County, which features Kateylynn, a client in our young adult program, who just moved into an apartment of her very own.
Ina Dunlap is a ShelterCare volunteer, along with her two pugs, certified therapy dogs Sammy and Jiminy. Ina and the pugs make regular stops at ShelterCare’s Garden Place, where the residents look forward to their “pug therapy” sessions. Ina has been a ShelterCare volunteer for several years, and says she loves seeing how much joy the dogs can bring to people’s lives. We asked Ina to share a little bit more about how she became a volunteer and why she chose to work with dogs.
How did you learn about the ShelterCare volunteer program and what prompted you to get involved?
Originally I started volunteering at the Heeran Center when it was under ShelterCare management. ShelterCare contacted PAAWS (People and Animals Who Serve), a networking group for local Project Canine pet therapy teams, looking for a pet therapy team. I started there with Ricky, one of my previous therapy dogs, and then with Sammy. About two years ago I began bringing the dogs to Garden Place and working with the residents there.
Have you always been a dog person?
As a child I had cats, and when I got married, I wanted a cat. My husband wanted a pug. The pug won me over!
My husband’s family had a pug when he was growing up, and he loved her dearly. So when we got married and got a place where we could have pet, we got a pug and a cat. Although I loved the cat, the pug stole my heart. Pugs have been a part of my life for 35 years now. Sammy is our 6th pug, and Jiminy is our 7th. Sammy is the fourth pet therapy dog, and Jiminy is the fifth. I love the bubbly pug personality; they make you smile no matter what. They make all sorts of funny sounds…like snorts and grunts…it’s the best. And they are wonderful cuddlers. Both pug boys sleep with us at night.
Tell us about the process Jiminy and Sammy went through to earn their certifications
Each pug and I have gone through a four-hour workshop where we learn about therapy animal best practices, zoonotic diseases, reading signs of stress in dogs, and insurance requirements. Step 2 is a team skills test evaluating how the dog and handler work together as a pet therapy team, and how they handle basic obedience skills and exposure to a variety of distractions commonly experienced during pet therapy visits. There is also an oral exam covering the material from the workshop. All dogs must be up-to-date on vaccinations. Step 3 is a mentoring component, where prospective teams learn from experienced teams and then visit with an experienced team available to coach and assist. We are reevaluated as a team every two years.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?
I love sharing my pugs with people. The smiles on people’s faces when they see Sammy or Jiminy make my day. Some days at work, nothing seems to go quite right. But when I come home and take one of the pug boys to visit folks, all the stress from the day melts away, a smile pops up on my face, and I’m suddenly having a great day. Pet therapy visits are my passion. I am also the recording secretary for PAAWS.
What is the best thing or funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering at Garden Place?
I usually visit on Saturday after dinner in the TV room. Sometimes it’s movie night. One of the residents decided he would pick out a movie especially for Sammy, so he chose 101 Dalmatians. It was the animated version, and Sammy curled up on the couch with the residents, watching closely, because he does watch TV at home. One of the scenes is “Twilight Barking” where all the dogs are barking to share information. Sammy really thought he should join in, and let out a couple of little woofs, something he doesn’t usually do. We got lots of smiles that night.
What is your fondest memory of volunteering at Garden Place?
When Sammy first started pet therapy visits, calming down was hard for him. Several of the residents at Garden were great, helping him settle down in a recliner next to them. They also cheered for his tricks as he was learning “shake hands”, and “high five.” I love the smiles on people’s faces.
When your friends/family find out that you volunteer, what to do they say or ask?
Because I visit at a juvenile detention center and the state hospital in Junction City, as well as Garden Place, people often ask if I ever have situations where I am afraid or in danger. I tell them that in all the places I visit, the staff is wonderful. They make sure I am safe, and, if it’s not a good day to visit, they let me know, and I don’t stay. The other thing people ask is what it takes to get started in Pet Therapy. I explain the process and tell them it is the best thing I get to do in my life and so very worth it.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
My Mom was 40 and my Dad was 50 when I was born. Also, I moved to an apartment next to the State Penitentiary in Salem when I was 19.
What do you do when you aren’t volunteering?
I work full time for PeaceHealth Lab for 33 years now, so that takes up a large part of my time. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my husband. The pug boys are often in classes, and we are always training. They love to learn new tricks!
For nearly 40 years, ShelterCare has been working to reduce homelessness among individuals with psychiatric disabilities by providing both housing and supports that encourage recovery and independence. Unfortunately, even as some people get help, others fall victim to untreated behavioral health challenges, lose housing and end up on the streets. It is a cycle that must be broken to significantly and permanently reduce homelessness in Lane County.
Thanks to Kaiser Permanente, a large nonprofit health system, ShelterCare will be able to test an innovative solution to this challenge. Using a $325,000 award from Kaiser Permanente’s Housing for Health grant initiative, ShelterCare is launching the Eviction Intervention Program (EIP), which will be part of the agency’s existing Homelessness Prevention Program. ShelterCare will be joined by four local partners who will each handle important components of the three-year project: Cornerstone Community Housing; Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County (HACSA); Laurel Hill Center; and Trauma Healing Project.
The EIP was developed from conversations with HACSA, which reports that 80 percent of its eviction proceedings can be traced to untreated behavioral health problems. The EIP will utilize a Community Health Worker (CHW) to assess, engage and advocate for at-risk tenants. The CHW will connect tenants with community resources that can provide treatment and support for their behavioral health challenges and help stabilize their housing situation.
By carefully gathering client data before and after referral, the EIP will measure the impact of CHW interventions. CHWs are an important focus of the Housing for Health grant initiative. Kaiser Permanente believes that CHWs are a powerful resource who can be used to reduce health care costs and build healthier communities. ShelterCare shares this belief and is excited to test this new application of using CHWs to prevent homelessness, maintain housing and improve client health.
The EIP also will include an innovative education and outreach program aimed at Lane County property owners and managers. Trauma Healing Project will develop and deliver a trauma-informed curriculum explaining why it’s important to provide housing to individuals with a history of behavioral health problems; how to identify and effectively manage tenants who appear to have untreated behavioral health issues; and why using programs like the EIP is preferable to going through an eviction process. It is hoped that this educational program builds strong relationships with Lane County property managers and opens doors for people who might encounter barriers to safe and affordable housing.
Finally, the EIP will include a strong advocacy component, something required by the grant award. ShelterCare and its partners plan to advocate at the state level to promote greater utilization of CHWs. In particular, the goal is to create mechanisms (such as billing codes) allowing for Medicaid reimbursement of CHW work. The vision of Kaiser Permanente, ShelterCare and many other entities is a future where Medicaid invests in housing and the important work of Community Health Workers, resulting in communities where more people are housed and healthy, fewer people are homeless and unhealthy and significantly less money is spent on health care.