Tender Mercies, Inc. is dedicated to providing housing and related services to homeless persons with histories of emotional and/or mental disabilities. Tender Mercies serves a racially diverse group of adult men and women suffering from a range of mental health disorders with the majority affected by schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Founded in 1985, the organization maintains affordable permanent and transitional housing that allows residents to live independently. The organization has grown into a small community consisting of six buildings that ~150 individuals call home. Additionally, Tender Mercies works to provide support for their residents by holding meetings about substance abuse, procuring benefits for residents, offering social and recreational activities, and advocating for any additional needs. The Urban Health Project intern provides basic support for the organization while reinforcing their understanding of mental health issues through extensive interaction with the residents. Additionally, the intern works on a number of programs designed to specifically address resident needs. This site is very flexible and intern should be self-driven!
- Gain an enhanced understanding of the issues affecting homeless individuals with histories of mental illness.
- Become aware of community service agencies assisting this population.
- Develop their understanding of mental illness.
- Learn about what residents need in order to improve their overall health.
- Spend the first two weeks assessing the needs, wants, concerns, and interests of residents and the community resources available as well as designing a fitness/health program that will improve the overall health of participating residents.
- Design, plan, and implement programs tailored to the specific needs of persons with histories of mental illness through the use of a model based upon community assets.
- Assist in other duties as needed, including direct surveying, research, program planning, group/activity facilitation, record keeping, and evaluation.
- Facilitate the activities necessary to meet the goals of residents.
- Be available during normal working hours.
“At first, I admit to being unsure of working at Tender Mercies and the benefits it would have on me. I am passionate about advocating for those with mental illness and reducing the stigma wherever I can about it. In a tale as old as time, however, I really grew attached to those I worked with and found myself more and more comfortable just having normal interactions with them. I was not, honestly, as worried as I thought I would be, as I found it to be perfectly natural on most occasions. On my first day interacting with the residents, I fixed a bunch of their electronics on accident and listened to someone just talk for an hour. I find I did that a lot, listen to people talk who I now realize probably don't have anyone else to listen to them. It's tragic listening to some people's life stories, and it's also amazing how unbelievably smart and talented some residents are- indeed, mental illness and intelligence are not always correlated.
I think the largest challenge I had to deal with was lack of participation in my activities that I planned. Taking inspiration from the intern last year, I set up (socially distanced) group activities for people to join in, such as group walks and arts and crafts. I also set up a blood pressure station for those who wanted to get it taken and have that information, and I distributed Covid-19 vaccine information in an attempt to increase vaccination rates. These are a few examples of the many projects upon which I embarked. Some of this worked well, but only a couple of people, for example, joined the group walks. After speaking to a lot of residents and staff, some can be attributed to the nature of the mental illness that makes some unwilling to join any activities, and some is the result of Covid-19 restrictions building sedentary habits.
The greatest benefit I gained from this opportunity was the boldness and self confidence to be able to approach and work with people who may have debilitating mental illness. I do not claim to understand all there is to know about mental illness, but I do claim to have a better grasp at meeting these people where they are at and being more capable of being a partner with them on improving their healthcare when I do finally have a patient with these struggles. I always say that having a mental illness is similar to having a broken leg- the only difference is that society treats worse the one it cannot understand or see on an X-ray.”
– Franco Bull