“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
For 31 years, Bethesda House has served as a cornerstone for helping the homeless and impoverished in Schenectady recover, rest and rebuild their lives. As this “House of Mercy” has expanded, so have the needs of a population who is, as we all are, simply trying to do their best under their given circumstances. While Bethesda House has made it a priority to expand our in-house offerings to address these needs under one roof, we have also relied on our community partners and support systems to provide adequate resources and compassionate services to those in need. This year, partnerships have unified into the Schenectady HUB, a collective of service providers in Schenectady County led by the Schenectady Police Department and the Office of Community Services.
In 2019, the Schenectady Police Department had launched a pilot program called Schenectady Cares, which encouraged anybody struggling with drug addiction to come to the department without risk of arrest to be set up with rehab services. The program was highly successful and gaining a lot of traction, however, slowed to a halt during the pandemic. Sgt. Nick Mannix, who has been with Schenectady PD for eleven years, knew that many were still struggling but were hesitant to come to the police. With support from Lieutenant Macherone, he acquired overdose reports from the Schenectady Fire Department and began boots on the ground outreach with case workers from Catholic Charities and New Choices. It took time and patience to gain trust, but Sgt. Mannix’s kind and empathetic nature resonated with those who were living on the fringes and he was able to set them up with supportive services on the spot.
Seeing the potential of this kind of community outreach and care, he reached out to Ms. Michelle Cejka, Adult Behavioral Health Coordinator at Schenectady’s Office of Community Services, to see how they could expand. He and Michelle, along with Ms. Jen Hayden, Dual Recovery Coordinator, went to a conference in Boston to learn about the Chelsea HUB, a Massachusetts “police-led initiative made up of designated staff from the community and government agencies that meet weekly to address specific situations regarding clients facing elevated levels of risk, and develop immediate, coordinated, and integrated responses through the mobilization of resources.” The model is designed to mobilize services already available to address risky situations before an emergency occurs. With the high-level of services already available to the homeless, impoverished and mentally ill in Schenectady County, Mannix, Hayden and Cejka compiled their findings and in February officially created the Schenectady HUB.
The Schenectady County HUB is a multidisciplinary behavioral health team made up of invested community stakeholders. The primary lens of the model is harm-reduction focused, making the overall goal to reduce levels of harm and victimization for individuals being served. The HUB meets on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. Bethesda House was brought into the fold as a lead agency in the community with comprehensive and wraparound services. Delegates from each agency and department meet for about an hour to discuss active cases and plans of action. From there, they head out into the community to locate the individuals and connect them to services, whether that be housing, substance abuse treatment or general case management. For each team created, an integrated approach is required. The team remains in continuous communication until all identified goals have been met. The ability to convince someone to get help and help them fill out all the paperwork on the spot is critical as many of them don’t stay in one spot for too long, don’t have cell phones, or are too in the throes of addiction or overwhelmed to seek out services themselves.
This multi-disciplinary approach allows us to truly wrap the individual in services they need to find recovery, stability and healing. Bethesda House’s in-house psychiatric nurse practitioner and registered nurse are often part of this outreach to address any immediate medical needs. One particular individual was going to the emergency room twice a day. After connecting with the Schenectady HUB, he has since been housed at the YMCA and hasn’t been seen in the emergency room in over three weeks. Bethesda House has always operated under Housing First, which has proven time and time again that without safe housing, one cannot truly take the steps needed to stabilize their lives. Housing First alleviates the strain on already overwhelmed service providers by keeping vulnerable individuals out of the rotating door of emergency situations. The HUB has been able to successfully house every individual they made contact within their outreach.
Sgt. Mannix is passionate about solving problems on the spot and committing to follow-through, forming solid, trusting relationships by being on the streets almost every day helping those in need. Regardless of one’s success in treatment or recovery, they are never exiled from the program and will always be met where they’re at with compassionate care. We are so grateful to Sgt. Mannix and Ms. Michelle Cejka for their visionary leadership in bringing this much-needed community-driven coalition to life.
Bethesda House has always believed in the inherent goodness and potential of every human being. Working with the Schenectady HUB has allowed us to bring an even deeper level of human touch to the community we serve and the place we all call home. Many who work in Schenectady also live in nearby areas and want to see the county grow, thrive and prosper. With these shared goals in mind, we can create safe environments for all to flourish. The Schenectady HUB is a true model of what community care looks like, when we use patience and empathy in the face of challenging situations and uplift those who are beaten down by their life circumstances. The fact is we never know what someone is truly going through and every single homeless and impoverished individual is a human being with a story. We will never stop advocating for their dignity and working together with our community partners to help make their stories one of redemption. We are always stronger together.