Main Street facility

Mentally ill homeless in Columbia to get help at consolidated Main Street site

cleblanc@thestate.comJanuary 30, 2013 

— Transitions, Main Street Columbia’s center for the homeless, is expanding one of its services and seeking more taxpayer money for the rest of its operation.

Starting Thursday, homeless adults who are receiving mental health and housing assistance at a Gregg Street facility will be going to the Transitions homeless center along Main Street. The Mental Illness Recovery Center Inc. along Gregg Street is where for seven years about 765 patients have gone from being on the streets to being referred for treatment, Julie Ann Avin, director of MIRCI, said Tuesday. Some patients became recipients of federal assistance, achieved stability in their lives and found permanent housing, she said.

But since Transitions opened in June 2011, the number of homeless people getting help at MIRCI has dropped from about 80 daily to 10 per day, Avin said. In addition, the program’s $2 million, five-year federal grant ended in 2010.

Avin and other MIRCI supporters say the consolidation benefits a particularly vulnerable segment of the city’s homeless population by making mental health services more convenient at one site and by placing two mental health professionals at Transitions throughout the workday. Before the consolidation, those professionals split their time between Transitions and the Gregg Street facility, Avin and Transitions director Craig Currey said.

A one-stop service center is what Transitions backers said they wanted when it was built after bruising battles with city government, neighborhoods and Main Street businesses.

Avin and Mac Bennett, director of the United Way of the Midlands and a Transitions board member, said that treating mentally ill homeless people and getting them into housing saves taxpayers the high cost of emergency room treatment.

MIRCI is not closing, Avin said. Its clinical staff is moving Friday to the organization’s main office on Rosewood Drive, and the Gregg Street site will be converted to serve its housing clients, she said.

Currey said Transitions has asked city leaders for a $100,000 increase in public money to keep the financially strapped center operating for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Transitions leaders late last year announced a $360,000 deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30. That deficit has not been erased, Bennett said Tuesday.

Currently, Transitions gets $250,000 from City Council to help defray to cost of providing security at the center during the daytime, when 130 to 150 homeless adults shower, eat and can stay in a safe and pleasant place rather than wandering Columbia’s streets, Currey said. They also receive services – from education to job placement to help with medical and mental health – from 16 providers, Currey said.

The additional $100,000 would go toward fully covering the cost of security and for other expenses that would be left to Transitions leaders to decide, Currey said.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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