Thursday, May 23, 2024

Catholic Charities Opens First-of-Its-Kind Walk In Mental Health Clinic to Serve Those Who are Homeless

Expanding efforts in its mission to serve the most vulnerable in our communities, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg opened the first-of-its-kind walk-in mental health clinic in uptown Harrisburg on Wednesday, May 8.

The Labre Clinic, located at 2600 North 3rd Street, will offer walk-in mental health services to anyone in need, with a specific focus on those who are homeless.

“Our goal with this new clinic is to serve those who are homeless and to improve their access to mental health care when they need it,” said Kelly Gollick, Executive Director of Catholic Charities.

“There was nothing like this in the Diocese,” Gollick said of the initiative, noting that the idea for it came from a donor who wanted to find a way to address the mental health needs of those who are underserved and underinsured.

After a year of planning, a blessing and ribbon-cutting led by Bishop Timothy Senior drew a crowd of supporters to the small lawn of the clinic at the corner of 3rd and Radnor streets. Priests, Catholic Charities personnel and benefactors, financial donors, civic leaders and members of the Diocesan Center were on hand to support the start of the critical program, unveiled during National Mental Health Awareness Month.

“It is challenging to make appointments when you don’t know where you are living day to day or what challenges you’re going to face on any given day just to survive,” Gollick said. “This clinic will reduce the barriers of finding help. It will support emergency services such as our hospital emergency rooms and crisis intervention services by offering a non-emergency walk-in option for mental health care.”

The clinic is named for St. Benedict Joseph Labre. Born in France in 1748, he became a pilgrim, traveling from one shrine to another, and lived off the kindness of others. He wore threadbare clothes and lived as a beggar, and yet he shared his food with the poor. Often called “the poor man of the Forty Hours devotion” and “the beggar of Rome,” St. Benedict was canonized in 1881 and is the patron saint of homeless persons.

“It is an understatement to say that this is a needed resource in our community,” Bishop Senior said before blessing the clinic. “I am so very happy that Catholic Charities is being pro-active in engaging the Church in collaboration with others to provide this opportunity to reach out to those in most need in our community with this professional service and level of access to mental health care.”

“The crisis and epidemic of the need for mental health services is not limited to the poor and the most vulnerable; it affects families of all income levels and in all geographic regions,” he said. “But we begin here with those most vulnerable, those who are, in the sight of God, certainly most precious and the ones our mission reminds us that we meet Jesus in. As painful and as difficult as that encounter can be, we know that it is Jesus who comes to us in the most vulnerable.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, more than 15,000 Pennsylvanians are known to be homeless. These are individuals and families living in their vehicles, finding a temporary place to stay on a friend’s couch, or living on city streets or in parks.

At the Labre clinic, they’ll receive help to address addiction, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders that impact one in five adults in the United States.

Dr. Kirsten Tollefson is a professional psychiatrist and will serve as the Program Director of the Labre Clinic.

“I look forward to it being a place where all stigma can drop away at the door, and those who need the most help can begin their healing journey,” she said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

In an interview with The Witness, Dr. Tollefson said the mental health struggles of those who are homeless might not often be first in our minds when we consider how to help them, because those struggles aren’t always visible.

“As a psychiatrist, the central focus is the dignity of the human being in every form,” she said. “Psychiatry is the way of bringing a bunch of different areas together to address a person’s certain set of needs. Doing that with support and a message coming from all directions fully congruent with the beauty and dignity of the human person is exponentially important.”

She has worked in the past with people who are homeless, and said they quite often come in with a double stigma – one of being homeless, and the other of having a mental health problem.

“One of the key things is that when someone has been so wounded and they have gone without treatment or are dealing with something that is severe, it does take time for them to heal,” she said. “I’m so grateful to have been in this profession long enough to know that mental health issues are treatable, and that sometimes it just can take a long time.”

“There is a certain gentleness you must put forth when someone who is homeless is feeling so vulnerable with their mental health,” Dr. Tollefson continued. “My mission is to give them the best possible care because I might be the first psychiatrist they will see or have seen in a long time. My job is to plant the seeds that will bring them back again.”

The clinic is made possible through the financial support of donors to the state’s Neighborhood Assistance Program, a tax credit program that encourages businesses to invest in projects that assist people in need.

Catholic Charities is seeking volunteers who could serve the clinic as counselors or receptionists. For information on how you can get involved, contact Kelly Gollick at or 717-657-4804.

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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