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Mental Wellness Resource Center helps people find housing, counseling

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Cassandra Velasquez, a peer mentor, sits at her desk, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, at the San Juan County Mental Wellness Resource Center in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Peer mentors Cassandra Velasquez and Christan Holladay’s eyes light up as they tell about clients they have helped since the San Juan County Mental Wellness Resource Center opened in November.

The Mental Wellness Resource Center, located at 814 W. Maple St. in Farmington, is a free service that helps connect people with treatment options for substance abuse or mental and behavioral health. The center does not directly provide counseling, but helps people navigate through the system and find the resources they need to assist them.

This is done through connecting them with peer mentors — people who have experienced mental or behavioral health challenges in their own lives. The peer mentors ask questions and provide a list of options for assistance.

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For people who don't have insurance, they have helped connect them with providers who work with uninsured patients and have also helped qualified clients get onto Medicaid.

While they are there to guide clients through the process, they don't physically fill out forms for the clients or make appointments for them. Velasquez said they want the clients to feel comfortable doing that work for themselves. 

Peer mentor Christan Holladay is pictured, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, at the San Juan County Mental Wellness Resource Center in Farmington.

In January, the Mental Wellness Resource Center assisted 50 people and some clients came multiple times. A few clients walk in, especially those coming from San Juan Regional Medical Center across the street, but mostly people call. Sometimes clients will also reach out through email.

“There have been quite a few success stories,” Holladay said.

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She highlighted a client whose prescription had ran out and could not get an appointment with their healthcare provider. Holladay helped him find a provider who could see him the same day and get him a refill of his prescription.

“It’s nice when you get a client who will call or come by and say thank you,” Holladay said.

Beyond mental illness

While the focus is on helping connect people with resources to treat substance abuse or mental illness, they often find themselves assisting in other ways as well.

Holladay had a client come in who was unemployed and looking for work. When she heard about a store that was hiring, Holladay informed her client, who applied for the position and was then hired.

The front desk area is pictured, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, at the San Juan County Mental Wellness Resource Center.

Housing and food insecurity are two of the main areas where they have helped clients, including instances where clients have needed help applying for food stamps. In those situations, the peer mentors research what services are available in the community and what their clients need to do to qualify. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had economic impacts and San Juan County Behavioral Health Services Director Su Hodgman said that has increased the need for food assistance and housing. However, she said Farmington has had a problem with affordable housing shortages and she suspects those challenges will continue into the future. This can impact people’s mental wellness as they struggle with the stress.

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“If you suffer any kind of setback at all, it can snowball,” she said.

One client was released from the detention center on a probation hold, but had nowhere to go. The client visited the Mental Wellness Resource Center, which helped contact People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH. Velasquez drew a map so he could find his way to PATH and provided him with the bus schedules.

“That saved him from being homeless and falling back into the same behaviors,” Hodgman said.

Ending the stigma

Hodgman, Velasquez and Holladay all emphasized the need to reduce the stigma around mental health.

“Everybody should feel okay to be able to talk about it and ask for help,” Holladay said.

Velasquez emphasized that “it’s okay not to be okay.”

Hodgman said people from all socioeconomic classes can struggle with mental health and substance abuse.

“It’s the same for those who have everything and those who have nothing,” she said.

The Mental Wellness Resource Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. People seeking help can also call the center at 505-636-7110. More information can be found online at SJCounty.net/MWRC.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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