Touchstone partners with Hennepin County and PCs for People to eliminate the digital divide

Thanks to Hennepin County and PCs for People, Touchstone received 250 laptop computers in December 2020 to distribute to clients who live in Hennepin County.

This event is part of the Hennepin County’s broader effort to break down digital barriers that were starkly illuminated during the COVID-19 crisis. People of color were often the first to lose their jobs and had the fewest technology resources – laptops and internet access – to seek or apply for jobs, maintain their education or see their doctor through a telehealth visit. The county is using CARES Act to bridge this divide. See Connecting Hennepin at www.hennepin.us/tech to learn more, including some free or low-cost resources.

“Job hunting, distance learning, and keeping medical appointments today in this crisis requires computers and internet. It’s that simple,” said Ellie Skelton, Executive Director. “We appreciate Hennepin County’s effort to help people who are facing the greatest disparities in jobs, income, education and health.”

“Hennepin County is leveraging CARES Act funding to help county residents who haven’t had computers or internet to remain home and continue seeking jobs, learning or consulting with their medical provider. Now, more than ever, technology is critical for all families,” said Hennepin County Acting Director of Education Support Services Chela Guzmán-Wiegert.

The laptops will be distributed by PCs for People. “It’s our mission to provide individuals and families with the life-changing benefits of owning their own computer,” said Mary Lucic, Community Outreach & Fundraising Manager for PCs for People. The new laptops come with a year of free technical support from PCs for People.

The county and its community partners are identifying people for this program and enrolling them. Key criteria are lack of technology and someone in the family job hunting, distance learning or needing to maintain connection with their doctors.

For future distribution events, please see www.hennepin.us/tech.

Donna’s Story

Donna is glad to be in Minnesota, but she had a long journey to get here. She is an Indigenous Hawaiian and lived on the islands most of her life. After her 36-year marriage ended, she had no money and nowhere to live, so she slept on the street or on the beach. “Hawaii is so expensive, I couldn’t afford to buy food,” she said.

Donna and her boyfriend moved to the mainland, stopping in Reno, to see her son. While visiting, she had a serious heart attack, and spent seven weeks relearning how to walk, speak and eat. She received a service dog, Cha Cha, trained to alert her at the sign of a heart attack or stroke. Cha Cha has been a great help, but she still had several strokes and heart attacks in recent years.

“Living in a tent wasn’t easy,” said Donna. “It was so hard for me to get off the ground. The encampment was a dangerous place.” Within a few weeks of living in Powderhorn Park, Donna went into cardiac arrest. She had no where to go when she left the hospital, so she went back to the park.

“Thank God for Touchstone,” said Donna. Our staff met her when she was at her lowest point. “I was so depressed. I wanted to kill myself,” she said. Our staff told her she was eligible for an apartment and services at Minnehaha Commons. They helped her with verifications and paperwork, and she was able to move in just three weeks.

“I just saw my first snowfall. It was cold, but so pretty,” said Donna. “I love Minnesota. The people are nice, and I can buy a lot of groceries with my limited income.” Donna stays in touch with her six children and twenty grandchildren through Facebook and Instagram. “We all love football and have fun cheering for different teams, she said.”

“I really like my new apartment,” says Donna. “Touchstone staff help me manage my medications and doctor appointments, keep up my apartment, and take me grocery shopping. The staff are wonderful – they are like family to me.”

“I love my new life,” says Donna.

There are so many people like Donna, with no home, no place to go, and have mental health and medical conditions. Touchstone is helping people find a home and receive the support needed to keep their housing. Our programs help people move from homelessness and our services support and build their stability. Last year, our staff found housing for 55 people, like Donna, who experienced homelessness.

Unfortunately, the need for housing services and supports is greater than our capacity. Our staff receive phone calls each day, asking if there are openings in our housing programs. It’s so hard to tell someone there is a waiting list.

Your gift helps people have a home and services to support their needs, so they can live well in their community.

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Statement on Racism and Commitment for Action

Statement on Systemic Racism and Mental Health Disparities and Commitment for Action
Touchstone Mental Health Board of Directors and Agency Leadership
November 2020

2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year by any standard. Against the backdrop of a pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, systemic racism and police brutality have had a profound impact on Minnesota, our nation, and our world. George Floyd’s horrific murder in May on the streets of Minneapolis set off shockwaves around the globe as millions stood up to demand justice and call for change.

The U.S. presidential election has added another layer of turbulence to a nation already grappling with a historic convergence of challenges. While we are hopeful that the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will create more meaningful progress toward equality, we also recognize that no matter who is in the White House, there is much work to be done. The past several months has been a painful and shocking reminder of just how far we still must go to create a more just and equitable society.

Research indicates that racism and discrimination adversely affect both physical health and mental health.1 At Touchstone, we believe that recovery from mental illness requires a focus on whole-person wellness, not simply treating mental illness in isolation. We also understand that throughout history, Black, Indigenous and people of color have been repeatedly traumatized by racism and racist structures and these issues deeply affect the whole-person wellness of those we serve. Upwards of 39% of our clients2 are from groups that are traditionally affected by racism; therefore, our focus on the whole person demands that we also address the impact of racism.

Additionally, disparities exist in access to mental health care, and these disparities are quite literally a matter of life and death. In the Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota report, the Minnesota Department of Health found that people with serious and persistent mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than those who have not had that experience.3

As a community mental health organization, Touchstone is committed to helping people recover from mental illness and develop the skills they need to live well in their communities. We are working toward a future that is equitable and safe for everyone. And we are actively working to identify and dismantle bias in the mental health system. Here is how we’re taking action:

• We commit to continuing our work in our community to improve access to mental health services and reporting on our impact.
• We commit to working with our partners in the cities and counties in our community to improve the response to mental and behavioral health crises and reducing our reliance on 911 for a police response.
• We commit to on-going diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for our staff and board of directors and reporting on this initiative. This education will cover topics such as systemic racism and other forms of bias and culturally responsive care.
• We commit to examine, implement, and report on human resources practices that focus on improving the recruitment and retention of individuals that are Black, Indigenous or people of color.
• We commit to continue to diversify our leadership staff and board of directors and reporting on our progress in our annual report.

We recognize that solutions for deeply entrenched issues, such as systemic racism, are not fast or simple. But we remain committed to acting as a force of positive change in our community, working for wellness, justice, and peace.

Signed,

Touchstone Mental Health Board of Directors

Erica Taylor-Radtke, Chair; Bethany Burzynski, Vice-Chair; John Fritz, Treasurer David McGraw Schuchman, MSW, LICSW (Emeritus Inactive), Secretary; Jamal Adam, Ph.D.; Gena Braaten; Lyndsay Capeder; Christine Clifford; Nikki Hill; Ann Marie Johnson, MA, PHR; Antonia Johnson, BSW, MPNA; Harvey D. Linder, Ph.D., LP; Sanchayita Ray; Liina Roth; Pia Teabout; and Ben Weisbuch, Esq., MA

Touchstone Mental Health Leadership Team

Ellie Skelton, MA, CEO / Executive Director; Chris Tomshine, BA, CFO / Vice President of Finance; Khu Thao, PsyD, LICSW, LP, Vice President of Community Mental Health; Michelle Wincell O’Leary, MA, LICSW, Vice President of Community Housing Services; Deb Hesli, LICSW, Director of Housing Innovations & Intentional Communities; Kari Scanlon, PHR, Director of Human Resources; Michele McGee, BS, Director of Operations; Anne Boone, LMFT, Director of Case Management/ Care Coordination; Deb Gruel, LSW, Director of New Hope Apartments; Katie Muehlen, LICSW, Director of Rising Cedar; Keara Nadeau-Grandy, MSW, LICSW, Director of Residential Treatment Bloomington; Linda Stenstadvold, MSW, LICSW, Director of Lyric Lane Residential Treatment & Crisis Stabilization; Linda Olsen, LICSW, Director of Residential Treatment Minneapolis and Chris Westergaard, MSW, LGSW, Director of Minnehaha Commons

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Mental Health, Culture, Race and Ethnicity. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44243/
2. Touchstone Mental Health. (2020). Touchstone Mental Health 2019 Annual Report. Retrieved from: https://www.touchstonemh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Annual_Report_2019_web-1.pdf
3. Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota: Report to the Legislature. Retrieved from: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/equity/reports/ahe_leg_report_020114.pdf

Give to the Max to Help End Homelessness

A gift to Touchstone brings immediate support for people needing a home. Make your gift to Touchstone today!

“I never thought I would be homeless,” said Terry. “I had a regular everyday life, with a  family, a home and a job. I’m also a proud Veteran.” His life changed, but he was doing alright on his own, until his landlord lost his rental subsidy paperwork.

Once he lost his housing, Terry spent his days finding a meal, a shelter for the night, and figuring out how to be safe and survive. Fortunately, he was referred to Touchstone. Terry’s life changed when he moved into Minnehaha Commons and received support from Touchstone staff.

In recent months, there is a surge in the number of people in the Twin Cities, who are homeless. Many are living on the street or in a tent, as fears of COVID keeps them  from going to a shelter.

We expect even more people will lose their housing when eviction restrictions are lifted. There is a great need for Touchstone programs that help people find and keep their housing. Our staff receive phone calls each day, asking if there are openings in our housing programs. It’s hard to tell someone there is a waiting list.

You can give now, to support people like Terry, so they have a home.

Donate Today

Staying Resilient Through COVID-19

Touchstone has provided continuous services throughout the pandemic, thanks to your support.

This is a difficult time for all of us, but especially for people living with a mental illness. Many individuals have experienced increased symptoms and could not receive services in their home. I have been impressed with the resilience of our staff as they quickly adapted to providing telehealth services and assisted people with increased needs and fewer resources. Our front-line essential workers have done an incredible job serving residents in our six 24-hour programs, despite COVID concerns and restrictions.

Currently, there is a surge in the number of people who are homeless and living on the street or in parks. Touchstone is responding to this crisis by providing Housing Stabilization Services (HSS) that help people find and keep their housing in the community. We are among the first agencies in Minnesota to offer Housing Stabilization Services that began in July.

We are also excited to announce a new housing partnership with Aeon, developer and owner, of Village Club Apartments in Bloomington. Touchstone will provide housing assistance and support services at Village Club Apartments, for 17 people who have experienced homelessness.

As we continue to navigate the uncertain future, we know that your support of our mission is essential. We rely on your donations to help individuals with mental illness find and keep housing, reach their goals, and reduce the amount of time spent in a hospital or treatment center. You help people live and thrive in the community of their choice through your gift to Touchstone Mental Health.

With Gratitude,
Ellie Skelton
Executive Director

View our 2019 Annual Report

Touchstone served 1,684 people in 2019 in our housing programs, community mental health and residential treatment for people living with a mental illness.

But wait, there’s more!

Last year, our housing programs helped 62 people have a home, with 54 of them being ages 55 and older who experienced homelessness. Our Case Management services and Intentional Communities program provided support so 88% of people served avoided a psychiatric hospitalization.

View our 2019 Annual Report to learn more.