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For over 50 years, Ozone House has played a pivotal role in Washtenaw County—assisting runaway, homeless, and high-risk youth and their families.
While stable housing is a primary focus, the organization has expanded its mission to provide a holistic range of support services—food, job training, life skills, therapy, and more—that help clients meet their full potential. And beyond homelessness, many young people are also struggling with mental health issues.
Heather Brown is the director of youth and family services and began working at Ozone House earlier this year. Her team stands behind the organization’s volunteer crisis line and helps coordinate the support a youth and/or their family needs. She notes that sometimes youth end up in homeless situations because of behaviors that are hard to manage or understand.
“We have young people who are couch surfing, homeless, or just unstably housed,” says Brown. “And a lot of it does have to do with mental health issues that are unaddressed, thereby creating instability in all areas of their life.”
Brown also explains that parents can become burnt out or angry by these situations.
“Having the ability to address some of that with a psychiatrist—but also with individual and family therapy—can facilitate an understanding of what’s happening,” continues Brown.
Thanks to a millage partnership, psychiatry time is now happening on-site at Ozone House through Dr. Andrea Mobilio—a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has been with Washtenaw County Community Mental Health since 2008.
Each week, she provides a half-day of time to youth and young adults “who otherwise may not have clear care and follow up,” she says. This includes seeing clients at Miller House, a transitional living program that serves youth and young adults, aged 18 and over, who are experiencing homelessness.
“Some kids staying at Miller House don’t have an address,” notes Mobilio. “So, I’m able to assess them, start them on meds, and maintain this relationship while they have shelter services and excellent case management. Otherwise, they may have had to go to an ER.”
Brown notes that Dr. Mobilio has been particularly helpful when youth are starting a new medication. The collaborative team can circle back to her within a week for any needed adjustments or to simply report updates, good or bad.
“It's a great way to coordinate the care of a young person,” says Brown. “We have the shelter staff, the prevention coordinators, therapists and Dr. Mobilio—sitting in the same room, sharing our concerns. We’re all communicating and working together in a seamless way. We’re so happy we’re doing this.”
And according to Dr. Mobilio, the feeling is mutual.
“I want to say how great it is to work with Ozone,” says Mobilio, “because they have really strong clinicians and want to work with folks where they are—very person-centered plans.”
Ozone House can also fill an important role for youth who are leaving probation status—following a discharge plan and continuing services that decrease the likelihood of them returning to the legal system.
Brown notes that youth usually feel more comfortable utilizing these services in the community and outside of a jail setting.
“We’ve set up a communication loop,” says Brown. “If the courts or juvenile detention center have someone they want us to see in the community—at Ozone with Dr. Mobilio—they contact our team.”
Keisha Phillips is a prevention coordinator and member of the clinical staff at Ozone House who is familiar with this population.
She notes that while her organization provides much-needed shelter beds and support services, she continues to see a need for more safe spaces that provide youth with structure and assistance in problem-solving—places that aren’t connected to the justice system.
“Young people should have a safe place to go,” says Phillips. “They shouldn’t have to commit a crime [and end up in detention] to not sleep on the curb.”
And the millage is collaborating with Ozone House to create those spaces. In its first year of funding, they provided the organization with a supportive housing contract—which expanded its bed capacity and allowed them to hire an additional case manager.
Phillips notes that the increase in cross-sector partnerships, including those with Washtenaw County Community Mental Health, have been wonderful for providing wrap-around care—supporting the multitude of needs a youth and family may have.
“We’re finally getting to a place where we're comfortable saying, ‘I have this kid, can you join this meeting?’” says Phillips. “It’s more of a collaborative, holistic approach. And it helps us accomplish more for the clients.”
Phillips explains that coordination of care between agencies allows each organization to understand its role and where they can benefit a youth and family most—enhancing care, instead of duplicating services.
“Before, a young person could be in therapy for three years and I might not know,” says Phillips. “Now I have a better understanding of what they’re already working on, so I can help where needed. I’ve seen a tremendous change because of the collaboration.”
Pam Cornell-Allen is the associate director of Ozone House and notes that while it has typically been challenging to help young people access psychiatric services, it became even more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. She notes that the millage has created additional access and flexibility.
“Instead of trying to link a young person to an external provider,” she says, “we can plan for them to have access [here] and help facilitate all of the pieces that go into making that happen. It’s been very valuable.”
“Helping these young people stabilize,” she continues, “and then coming up with a continued plan of care for when they leave, I think it’s a huge game changer for many of the youth and families we see.”
Beyond the extra psychiatry time, Cornell-Allen says the expansion of the CARES team and crisis response services have been incredibly helpful for Ozone staff.
“Sometimes, our programs are single-staffed after normal business hours and it can be a lot to manage,” she explains. “So, we’ve been more consistently utilizing the crisis response team—if a young person is expressing suicidal ideation or there's some other kind of immediate safety issue. We've had very good experiences with them coming onsite to help our staff support that young person in crisis.”
Looking ahead, Dr. Mobilio says that they are still planning additional enhancements for care, including a clinic where youth can continue to receive needed services. She notes that just learning about each other’s organizations over recent years has been a helpful shift.
“We’ve been working in parallel for so long,” recalls Mobilio. “So it’s a huge deal to know each other, to know how the puzzle pieces fit together, and where the gaps are. All of us are so grateful to just know who each other are and to see what’s possible in each other’s domains.”
Story by Gregory Powers