Combating Homelessness with Wellness, Recovery
By Casie Ennis
2:34 pm,
July 28, 2023

In our communities and throughout the state, homelessness has become an epidemic rooted in many complex problems and issues at both micro and macro levels. Social determinants of health, including economic stability, education quality, access, health care quality and access, and social and community environments, all impact an individual’s ability to obtain and retain housing. Additionally, individuals struggling with serious mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders make up a portion of the population experiencing homelessness.

According to some research, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness with a severe mental illness and/or substance abuse may be around 30%. In contrast, others report this number to be much higher. The lack of affordable housing and housing options that provide treatment opportunities appropriate to needed levels of care for those who are ill has catapulted the ongoing issues with housing security into the widespread emergency we see today.

In Tulare County, the Behavioral Health (BH) Branch of the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) is working on solutions to serve, treat, and, ultimately, house individuals experiencing serious and persistent mental illness and co-occurring substance use and abuse disorders. One solution is creating an additional board and care facility, and we have moved forward in the process of purchasing the Casa Grande facility on Walnut Avenue in Visalia. This campus is gated with multiple buildings and the potential for 90+ beds. We plan to develop the site into an augmented board and care facility that provides behavioral health and wellness treatment and supportive housing to adults 18 years or older, with a history of mental health or substance use or abuse history that are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

We plan on utilizing a consultant to ensure we create a facility that provides holistic and whole-person-oriented services, connection to the community, and effective discharge planning. We look forward to renaming this new housing site with a title representing everything we hope to do. Let us know if you have ideas!

We at HHSA believe wellness and recovery is possible, and we are excited to provide services and housing options in our community to ensure individuals are provided with the care and housing opportunities they need.

We hope these efforts will improve our unhoused neighbors’ life and health outcomes and prevent individuals from experiencing homelessness. We at Tulare County Behavioral Health envision individuals experiencing wellness, participating in healthy relationships, and, when ready, connecting to vocation and volunteer opportunities so they participate in and contribute to our larger community.

As I share what we hope to achieve with the new augmented board and care, it’s essential that I also outline what the site is not.

This housing site is not a homeless shelter. Individuals must qualify for and participate in behavioral health services and treatment, not simply be experiencing homelessness, to participate in this service and site. They must also be appropriate and safe neighbors to be housed at the board and care.

This housing site is not a detention center or “halfway house.” While individuals served may have a history of incarceration, individuals will be assessed for safety, and no individuals with a violent or sex-related crime will be housed in this community.

This housing site is not a hospital nor a locked facility. Higher levels of care are offered in a locked psychiatric facility that will not be included at our Visalia location.

In summary, the future augmented board and care site in Visalia is an opportunity to increase wellness and recovery and to reduce or prevent homelessness for our neighbors experiencing behavioral health challenges. We will invite community members to walk through the campus in the coming months as we develop the site into a wellness and recovery center. We hope to see you there and look forward to sharing more about what this site will achieve for Tulare County.

About the Author

Casie Ennis
Casie Ennis, DSW, LMFT, is the deputy director of clinical services for the Tulare County Behavioral Health branch within the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency. She has a doctorate in social welfare and is a licensed marriage and family therapist.