Homeless services nonprofit Bethesda Cares received a pair of awards at a ceremony last week put on by the Montgomery County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The group named Bethesda Cares, which provides meals, social worker support, a clothes closet and eviction prevention services to homeless and working poor out of its Woodmont Avenue office, as its 2012 Outstanding Service Organization.
Outreach worker John Mendez, who spearheads the group’s efforts to interact and provide services to some of the estimated 72 chronically homeless on Bethesda streets, received NAMI’s 2012 Dr. Wayne Fenton Memorial Award.
On an early morning survey of homeless people’s medical needs last month, Mendez spoke about the mental illnesses some face and how those can prevent them from finding ways off the street.
Mendez said he typically goes out once a week to places where homeless people are known to stay in order to maintain contact. Bethesda Cares provides guidance to homeless in entering various housing programs and is a major proponent of the “Housing First” strategy to ending homelessness, as opposed to the more traditional route of putting homeless in transitional shelter or rehab programs first.
The group has actively lobbied county officials, including County Council Health and Human Services Chair George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, to adopt a more agressive approach to putting chronically homeless people in their own homes as an incentive to keep them off the streets.