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April 6, 2017 was one of those California-weather-like days in Houston with a bright sky and breeze just right as a crowd gathered for the grand opening of the new home of the Houston Furniture Bank, a long-time partner of The Harris Center. The large new building contains an entire warehouse of furniture, a mattress recycling area, a retail outlet and the big hearts of the Houston Furniture Bank employees.
Getting to this point was no small feat. Two and a half decades of hard work, innovation and partnership have allowed the Houston Furniture Bank to serve families throughout Harris County, including quite a few consumers of The Harris Center.
The connection between the Houston Furniture Bank and The Harris Center goes back to 1992 when a housing support employee at The Harris Center, then the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA) of Harris County, saw a void in consumers’ residences. There were no beds, tables, chairs, sofas or other signs that they were actually homes. That employee, Oli Mohammed, had an idea. What if the Agency found donated furniture to turn these houses into homes? With the support of the Agency’s executive director, Dr. Steven Schnee, he began what became the MHMRA of Harris County Furniture Bank. “If Dr. Schnee didn’t see the virtue in this, the furniture bank wouldn’t exist,” said Mohammed.
The endeavor was so successful and so needed across the community that it became an independent non-profit organization known as the Houston Furniture Bank in 2003. Mohammed became executive director of the organization, a role in which he continues today.
Throughout the last 25 years, he has expanded the Houston Furniture Bank’s partnerships to include more than 80 other agencies, implemented a mattress recycling program, created a public retail outlet, established relationships with major furniture franchises, developed a collaboration with local volunteers who help clients decorate their homes and, most notably, rebuilt the organization after a devastating fire that consumed its warehouse and inventory. As Mohammed often points out, too many people in Harris County, including children, sleep on the floor because they cannot afford to buy beds. He also knows that individuals with mental illness often fall through the cracks when it comes to getting their basic needs met. Improving their living conditions is one step in the right direction.
“We need to make a commitment that people with mental illness should not have to sleep on the floor,” said Mohammed.
Together, the Houston Furniture Bank and The Harris Center are doing just that. Qualifying consumers of The Harris Center are able to acquire furniture from the Houston Furniture Bank as part of the support services they receive from the Agency. While The Harris Center assists with the cost of the actual furnishings, the delivery cost is covered by The Harris Center Foundation for Mental Health and IDD, formerly known as Friends of MHMRA of Harris County, when consumers are unable to pay this fee. The Harris Center Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support the work of The Harris Center beyond the limitations imposed by existing public funding streams.
“We have a special relationship with the Houston Furniture Bank because the truth is that so many of our people need that special assistance,” said Dr. Schnee.
With so much need in the community, the Houston Furniture Bank is always looking for anyone who is interested in donating furniture or shopping in its retail outlet to help support its endeavors. Most importantly, though, Mohammed and his team want to spread the word about how they are able to help those in need of assistance.
“The Houston Furniture Bank’s ultimate mission is to make sure that no child sleeps on the floor in our city,” said Mohammed.
For more information on the Houston Furniture Bank, call 713-842-9771 or visit houstonfurniturebank.org.
HOUSTON, October 1, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of individuals who are homeless and have mental illnesses. It is not only the unhealthy conditions on the streets that make the unsheltered homeless “at-risk” to COVID-19; most suffer from underlying, chronic health conditions. An estimated 15-25% of individuals experiencing homelessness throughout Harris County and the greater Houston area suffer from severe mental health issues making it difficult for city, county and local partners to quickly assist and house them out of harm’s way. Social distancing requirements have also reduced homeless shelter capacity. These extremely acute individuals have a large impact on first responders and hospitals by routinely requiring emergency intervention. These individuals increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure to first responders and the community
The COVID-19 disaster is having a detrimental impact on the ability of homeless individuals with mental illness to find a safe place to shelter following stabilization and discharge from inpatient crisis psychiatric treatment.
Representative Garnet Coleman proposed utilizing an existing state Healthy Community Collaborations grant to enable three local organizations to provide transition shelter and supporting services for homeless people who have mental illness. The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center and Open Door Mission will join forces to open a 24-hour facility with 28 beds.
When D. Danielle Hale, Ph.D., arrived as a new employee at The Harris Center, her first assignment was facilitating a group with male inmates at The Harris County Jail that was part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Program. Nine years later, Dr. Hale’s list of responsibilities as the now-Lead Psychologist for the Adult Services Program of The Harris Center’s Mental Health Forensic Services Division has grown to include overseeing additional programs in the Jail and the supervision of a dozen employees. However, she continues to facilitate the same group she was first assigned in 2007. According to Dr. Hale, “That’s where my joy is, where my passion is.”
The CBT Program focuses on helping those who participate learn how to better handle everyday situations and choices, something many of these inmates may not get the chance to do otherwise. Housed together in one unit within the Jail, about twenty men are part of the CBT Program at any given time. They are referred to the program by The Harris Center staff providing mental health services in the Jail, Jail staff or they may self-refer. Participants may remain in the program for up to five months while in the Jail, and the ages of those in the program have ranged from 18 to over 60.
Anyone who has lived in Houston for a little over a week has come across people who speak a language other than English. As one of the most diverse cities of the world, Houston is home to people from all the continents, and a substantial portion of them are not fluent in English. These individuals make up a significant amount of Harris Center clientele.
For many of us, the chance to sit down and visit with family and friends over a cup of coffee is a cherished tradition. Whether the conversation is about work, hobbies or the latest reality television show, it is a way to form and maintain connections with others.
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The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD strives to provide high quality, efficient, and cost effective services so that persons with mental disabilities may live with dignity as fully functioning, participating, and contributing members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay based on a sliding scale rate schedule.
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