Mental Health and Homelessness

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Thresholds is a local organization that provides healthcare, housing, and supports for Illinois’ homeless population, half of whom they estimate suffer from a mental illness.

The organization launched the CTA Project in an effort to connect with Chicago’s homeless who ride public transportation. Karen Dolbee is a member of one such team and says the group focuses on the red and blue lines since they run round the clock. She says the group seeks to empower the people they come in contact with, asking what each person’s goals. From there, the relationship-building begins. 

“It may take a few months to build a trusting relationship with someone who’s homeless and has a severe and persisting mental illness,” she says.

Once they form a relationship, the team works on helping their client get the services he/she needs, whether that means enrolling in medical care, finding a place to stay, or interviewing for jobs. Currently, the organization has 250 individuals on their roster. Dolbee’s group came in contact with Charles Henderson in 2010.

“I was at the O’Hare airport and talked to me and got me a place at the hotel,” he says. “I said, ‘Woah! I’ve been saved.'”

Today, Charles is on medication to help manage his schizophrenia. He has an apartment of his own and is working on handling his own money and finding a job. He credits Thresholds with treating him like a family member.

“We’re out there every single day working with people that the majority of society does not want to see,” Dolbee says. “You don’t want to see that because I think sometimes once you see it, you can’t un-see it and then once you see it, you have to become active.”

While not everyone will get involved with an organization like Thresholds, Dolbee says it’s important for all Chicagoans to treat people who are homeless with respect. She has the following advice:

“Eye contact when you’re out there and seeing people as people when they’re on the train or in the park or on the street,” she says. “I see so many people who just walk by and you know, that’s a person.”

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