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April 2004 Issue

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Department of Family Medicine Receives Grant to Help Homeless

Published April 2004

The Andrew Jergens Foundation has granted $20,000 to the UC Department of Family Medicine and Cincinnati's Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), a local homeless family shelter. The grant is supporting a new project designed to improve the mental health and quality of life for approximately 100 homeless adolescents who are staying at IHN with their parents.

IHN provides food, lodging and a variety of other crucial support services to Cincinnati's homeless families. Its main goal is to help them find and maintain housing. IHN is one of only two family shelters that admits adult male parents and/or boys over 12.

The Jergens project is being administered by Bob Moore, IHN's executive director. Two UC family doctors, Professor Susan Montauk, MD, and Associate Professor Jerry Friemoth, MD, are providing group and individual mental health treatment to IHN's adolescents. Lawson Wulsin, MD, professor, UC Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, is a consultant to the project.

The program is unique because it is taking place on-site (at IHN) in an environment to which the teens are accustomed, it has no waiting list, and it is providing free medication. The program offers both supportive therapy and treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

In a typical year there are approximately 25,000 homeless persons in the Cincinnati area, and there is an ever-increasing number of homeless families. Surprisingly, a third of Cincinnati's homeless are young people. About two-thirds of these are pre-teens; one-third are teenagers.

"Young people are most vulnerable to the stresses of homelessness, resulting in problems in school, social life, and family life," said Moore. "In addition, the stress of being homeless can cause children to become severely depressed and lose self esteem. The generosity of the Jergens Foundation is helping our homeless adolescents with mental illness to live healthier lives."

This pilot project will serve as a model that can be duplicated by other local, state and national family shelters. This will significantly expand the number of teens helped as a result of the charitable support from the Jergens Foundation.

"Homeless families' fears and frustrations, and their need for shelter, jobs and healthcare, can be so overwhelming that the needs of adolescents suddenly get deeply buried," said Dr. Montauk. "Yet without parental guidance and emotional support, many teens turn to alcohol and drugs. Worse still, the suicide rate among homeless teens is alarmingly high.

"Fortunately, here in Cincinnati we have institutions such as the Jergens Foundation which recognize that intervention at this key time can go a long way to improving the lives of homeless teens."

The UC Department of Family Medicine has a long history of service to the homeless. Its faculty provide care at the Drop Inn Center and the Cincinnati Health Network's Homeless Healthcare Van. Faculty and staff also work with homeless mentally ill patients at Tender Mercies. In addition, the department conducts educational programs to train young doctors to provide high quality medical care to this population.

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