New drop-in day shelter offers free support, mental health resources – The Missoulian Express News

The cost of mental health services can be a barrier for struggling individuals, but a new drop-in community center in Missoula is adding another form of support for those in need.

The Sunburst Community Service Foundation off Russell Street added the drop-in day shelter about two weeks ago to serve people with substance abuse and mental health issues.

The new center, which is outfitted with couches, computers with WiFi, coffee, and snacks, is free and available to anyone.

People who come to the center can attend groups, such as the White Bison talking circle run by Thomas Kipp, a peer support specialist for Sunburst. Kipp said the group has a focus on Native American culture and substance abuse, but is open to anyone who wishes to be a part of it.

Kipp also helps people who visit the center find housing resources and apply for Medicaid or food stamps. If people are looking for further support, he guides them to Sunburst and other community resources for substance abuse and mental health.

Georgia Hartsfield, a community member who utilizes various services at Sunburst, said the new drop-in center has given her a place to go to get out of the house.

“When I’m at home, my PTSD really activates bad,” Hartsfield said. “I need to talk to other people.”

Hartsfield said Jan. 28 will mark 13 years of sobriety for her, but she still struggles with past traumas and finding a group of people to connect with.

Hartsfield only recently began spending time at the drop-in center, but she’s been working with Lisa Leon, a case manager at Sunburst, for about six months since the Missoula branch of Sunburst opened last year.

Hartsfield said Leon has been of more help than other support staff she’s worked with in the past.

Case management and clinical therapy are two of the additional mental health services that Sunburst provides at certain locations through a sliding scale fee program.

The Sunburst Community Service Foundation has six locations throughout Montana: Eureka, Libby, Kalispell, Polson, St. Ignatius and now Missoula. The parent organization began providing one-on-one mental health services after it became a licensed mental health center in 2010.

Megan Bailey, a clinical therapist for Sunburst, said staff at the drop-in center are there for support, not necessarily to refer people to services they have to pay for.

“It’s not a ploy to get clients,” Bailey said. “The idea is that we have a lot of high-risk people in our community and they just need a safe place to be, but then also a way to access services.”

Kipp works alongside two interns who are in the process of obtaining degrees in social work to provide support to individuals at the drop-in center.

The new drop-in center hasn’t had a lot of people so far, but Kipp expects attendance to pick up as the word gets out.

Julie Fleck, the executive director of Sunburst, said the organization opened in Missoula following requests from agencies and community members.

“I was hesitant about it for a while because it seems like there’s a lot of resources in Missoula, but there’s still pockets of people who need support,” Fleck said, adding that Sunburst focuses on under-served communities and people who may not find the support they need at other local organizations and clinics.

Bailey said she noticed an uptick for the need of additional mental health services in Missoula after Medicaid cuts forced some mental health providers to lay off staff or cut back on services.

This winter, Sunburst hopes to be not only a warm place but also a safe space, where people feel comfortable and start to form relationships.

“That might lead to opening the door for recovery in terms of substance use disorders or mental health concerns,” Fleck said.

Kipp said there is one man who was quiet when he started coming to the center, but over time he opened up. Now, he plays guitar for the other visitors.

Bailey said that as the Missoula drop-in center expands, they plan to add more art and skills groups to the calendar and hope to be open more hours throughout the week. The drop-in center is currently open Tuesday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m. The Missoula Sunburst office is open for other services from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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