The team is only five months old, but Orange County’s Street Outreach, Harm Reduction and Deflection program has morphed into a well-oiled machine.
Last year, the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness' Gap Analysis was released, and with it, its vision of eventually making homelessness in the area rare, brief and one-time. To respond to this, the Criminal Justice Resource Department and the Orange County Housing and Community Development Department created SOHRAD.
If you feel a situation involving individuals who experience homelessness needs intervention, reach out to the the street outreach team at (919) 886-3351.
The program is a peer and therapeutic-based outreach unit for those who experience homelessness.
Tiffany Hall, the team’s harm reduction clinical coordinator, said they’ve already built relationships with about a third of those who experience homelessness in Orange County over the last few months.
“I think what's really important about – especially what Don (Hardin) and I do – is those repeated interactions with people in kind of gentle encouragement,” Brandon Morande, a peer support navigator for the program, said. “Which is meeting with people consistently to build those relationships.”
Depending on where each individual is in their well-being at the moment of contact with SOHRAD, the team can provide social service contacts, providers specializing in mental health aide, temporary housing resources or contacts within the Orange County Crisis Unit. The unit specializes in managing violent situations or cases involving sexual assault or harassment.
“When I'm meeting someone new, I tried to meet them where they're at, ask them what they need, without assuming what I think is best for them,” Hall said.
Hall said she was recently called by an officer to approach a man sitting outside of the Target on Franklin.
"Hey," she asked him, "can I sit down with you?"
"And we’re just talking about everyday stuff, until something I said sparked a conversation about caverns,” Hall said. “Then he was like 'Yeah, yeah I’m gonna go to the mountains.’”
After continuing her conversation with the man, Hall discovered he was estranged from his family who lived near the Linville Caverns in Virginia and has schizophrenia.
Hall said she uses her experience working for a mental health hospital and even her current private practice in Burlington to aid clients with behavioral or mental health difficulties.
“As a therapist, we do something called an anger iceberg,” Hall said. “What you see on top is the anger, but underneath the surface is the worry, concern, loneliness — and I think a lot of that comes out as anger.”
Leaving no area of a patient's emotional health unnoticed is Hall’s job, and as the peer navigators, Morande and Hardin leave no areas patients could be occupying in the county unsearched.
The pair said they work with roughly 5-6 clients a day, from those who bounce around the county, to clients setting up camp deep in the surrounding woods.
“We have tents, blankets, stuff to keep the rain off of them, or warmers, socks, toboggans, anything people want,” Hardin said. “We go in to make sure they are comfortable until they’re ready to come off the street.”
Hardin said that sometimes that’s the most they could do if someone isn’t ready to move into temporary housing or start the process of finding a permanent residence. Despite that, the one-track focus the members keep in the forefront of their minds is the comfort of those they’re helping.
Hall said that the job, and the progress the team sees in the program’s participants isn’t for self-gratitude.
“It's just thinking, if I was in this position one day, I would really want someone to help me,” Hall said. “You never know why anyone is going through what they're going through.”
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