COVID-19 pandemic, mitigation measures like social distancing, and the resulting economic downturn significantly negatively impacted mental health and substance use challenges for many. Harrisonburg community members were not immune to the behavioral health impacts of the pandemic.
The City of Harrisonburg conducted a robust public engagement process in the first half of 2022 to determine the pandemic’s impact on community members and to garner feedback from the public for how best to address those impacts with the City’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) allocation. Improving community mental and physical health emerged from this public engagement process as a top public priority.
In response, the Harrisonburg City Council allocated $400,000 of the City’s ARPA funding for a Mental Health Fund.
The Mental Health Fund recognizes that improving mental health and wellness of all Harrisonburg community members is crucial to ensuring a healthy and thriving community. This Fund is designed to support organizations providing mental and behavioral health services, with an emphasis on services to low-income, underserved, uninsured, and/or underinsured individuals and families. Funding has been provided to six local organizations:
Boys & Girls Club of Harrisonburg and Rockingham (BGCHR) - $123,574 (full funding)
The Advancing Mental Health Equity through Out-of-School Time Programming project will fund a new, full-time Mental Health Advocate for BGCHR City Clubs to provide support for existing staff, group programming for approximately 500 youth and individual support for youth and their families. The Mental Health Advocate will help staff facilitate existing group programming, supplement Club curricula to promote positive social emotional development and address identified needs, provide individualized services to participants who exhibit signs of poor mental health and refer youth and their families to community-based support services. Staff capacity to support youth mental health will be bolstered by a partnership with Harrisonburg City Public Schools.
Strength in Peers - $111,877 (full funding)
The Back on Track Recovery Program project will provide full funding for a Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS) position and partial funding for a Case Manager and a Resident in Counseling. The PRS will work with the Case Manager and Resident in Counseling to provide mental health support and other services for homeless individuals and individuals facing housing insecurity. Offered support and services will include case management, individual and group therapy, housing application support, psychiatry and behavioral health assessments.
Gemeinschaft Home - $69,813 (99% funding)
The Gemeinschaft Home Behavioral and Mental Health Services ARPA Expansion project will expand the community’s capacity to respond effectively to the behavioral health needs of low-income, underserved, criminal justice-involved individuals who have a mental or behavioral health disorder or co-occurring mental and behavioral health disorder by expanding access to one-on-one counseling sessions and increasing the number of classes/hours offered of evidence-based curricula to address substance use disorder and co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.
The Collins Center - $40,569 (full funding)
The Sustainable Staffing for Comprehensive Mental Health Crisis-Intervention and Long-Term Therapy Services for City of Harrisonburg Primary and Secondary Victims of Sexual Harm project will fund a Bilingual Trauma-Informed Counselor position at the Collins Center and raise base salaries for the existing Clinical Coordinator/Therapist and Therapist-in-Residence positions to sustainably retain the existing clinical staff. All Collins Center services are free to both primary and secondary victims of sexual harm to allow them to begin embracing resilience, wellbeing and safety.
First Step: A Response to Domestic Violence - $34,167 (full funding)
The Bilingual Domestic Violence Counseling Services project will fund a Bilingual Domestic Violence Counselor position and promote the services available to survivors of domestic violence. While receiving treatment from the Bilingual Domestic Violence Counselor, the survivor will also be offered advocacy services from First Step Advocate staff members to assist them in accessing other community resources and benefits, including but not limited to Medicaid.
Community Counseling Center - $20,000 (full funding)
The Sliding Scale Program project will cover the cost of wages for counselors seeing clients with problems such as depression, anxiety, anger, conflict in the family and/or parenting concerns who utilize the Community Counseling Center’s sliding scale. The sliding scale allows those who do not have or cannot afford to use healthcare insurance to receive treatment at a cost equal to a percentage of their income. Session costs will generally range from $25 to $100 per session.
“Creating a City for All, like we are doing here in Harrisonburg, requires us to ensure that all members of our community feel safe, valued and have abundant opportunity,” Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed said. “The work these six organizations will do in our community is going to make Harrisonburg a better place for all who call it home, and ensure that people who need aid navigating mental and behavioral health challenges receive that support and know we care about their wellbeing. I am glad to know the ARPA Mental Health Fund will make that a possibility.”
During the City’s ARPA engagement process, community members identified health-related needs such as providing adequate health care clinics to meet demand, increasing substance abuse treatment services and expanding accessible and affordable mental health treatment for youth and individuals experiencing homelessness as key concerns, leading to the creation of the ARPA Mental Health Fund. City staff created a review committee to consider all applications for funds consisting of staff members and local experts, with the committee considering projects’ target population, funding requested, implementation timeline and average application score. After much deliberation, the committee decided to award full funding to five applicants and nearly full funding to one other applicant. Fourteen applications in total were received, requesting a combined $1,374,169.
Luke Morgan, Grants and Programs Analyst