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Cascade Opens New Social Support Center in Centralia

The Chronicle - 4/2/2019

April 02-- Apr. 2--Cascade Mental Health cut the ribbon Monday on a new location in downtown Centralia that's designed to be a "catch-all" facility for anyone who might need help -- from the homeless to those struggling with mental health or substance use issues.

Like many charitable organizations, the Social Support Center offers food, clothing, hygiene items and weather shelter materials. It's also a place where clients can come for counseling, alcohol and drug screening, mental health treatment, supported employment, housing and healthcare referrals and many other services.

"We provide a single point for multiple systems," said Julie Marquez, the center's clinical manager. "People can come in and access resources for housing, food and other essential needs, including our free store. We provide intakes for mental health and hopefully (substance use disorders) eventually so that people can come in here and have a safe and welcoming environment."

The entry area to the center, located at 209 W. Main Street, features puzzles, board games and hot coffee. That's by design.

"Sometimes a cup of coffee goes a long way in getting someone to open up," Marquez said, as a visitor worked on a puzzle nearby.

The new center will be staffed by a case manager and mental health professional, along with three peer counselors -- people in recovery who have completed training and can connect with clients who might be going through similar experiences. The facility has rooms for one-on-one counseling and group sessions, as well as the free store to meet clients' basic needs.

Dozens of local leaders gathered Monday afternoon for a ribbon-cutting and open house at the new center, which was the brainchild of Cascade case manager Kat Thompson. Cascade, through Thompson's work, was able to secure a grant with its funding organization, Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization, to open the center.

"Now if somebody's highly symptomatic and they're out in front of a business, instead of calling the police, which detracts from the business and doesn't generally help the mental health symptom, they can call and have us come and help them," Thompson said. "They can say, 'Hey, there's free coffee down there and there's folks who want to talk to you.' It's a place we can help clean up our streets and offer services for the people who are most vulnerable in our community."

Dr. Richard Stride, Cascade's CEO, credited Thompson on her vision for the project. He said the downtown location was chosen after an extensive search.

"This one was ideal, because it's right across from the library, it's kind of next to Gather Church, it's on the bus line," he said. "We anticipate we'll get a lot of drop-ins. We probably have already. That's why we want to make it a warm, welcoming environment for people to come. They can feel relaxed and we can get them into services or continue services. But you don't have to be a Cascade client in order to come here. Anybody's welcome."

Cascade board member Ron Averill also praised the location -- and the wide variety of services offered at the Center.

"Having a place where they can go, where they can just walk in and don't have to have an appointment and be able to meet with a counselor who can give them assistance is a tremendous benefit," he said. "We purposely looked for a place that was in the downtown area, because those folks -- this is where they get in trouble. They don't have to get all the way out to our office on Reynolds (Ave.) or the Chehalis substance abuse center."

Averill did acknowledge some "angst" among local business owners worried that the Center might attract people who will cause problems.

"They don't understand that our function is to help them with those problems so they don't exhibit it out on the street," he said.

Unlike other places that provide meals and clothing, Thompson noted, Cascade's facility requires clients who have made three visits to enroll in a behavioral or mental health program.

"We're working to fix the systemic nature of the problem," she said.

Centralia city councilor Rebecca Staebler, herself a downtown business owner, was also in attendance at the open house. She said people in the area will need to become accustomed to seeing the Center as a resource.

"Having the opportunity downtown to have assistance for people in need will hopefully be a great asset to the downtown community at large," she said. "The more we can get used to sending people over here and seeing what they can do, I'm really hopeful that will be a way that our community addresses the concerns of some of our population that don't have the access to resources that most of us do."

Cascade is hoping that message resonates -- if you're in trouble, or you see someone in trouble, the Social Support Center is the place to go.

"Our services are open to any client in the county who's open to accessing behavioral health services," Marquez said. "That could mean that someone's already enrolled with Cascade, or that could be someone who might be homeless and is hanging out at the park. ... They can not only access behavioral health services, but we can also provide case management for essential needs like housing, food, things like that."


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