Life was dark for Kristie Outcalt five years ago.
Outcalt, who was 35 at the time, had spent the past 20 years of her life addicted to meth, homeless on the streets of Martinsville and, for one year, in jail. She had lost custody of her children, and it seemed to her like there was no way out of a downward spiral.
Then, Outcalt discovered Centerstone, a national mental health and substance abuse recovery program with offices across Indiana, including in Nashville and in Outcalt’s hometown of Martinsville.
The certified counselors and recovery specialists at Centerstone helped Outcalt regain control of her life. Soon, she will celebrate the four-year anniversary of her sobriety and the end of her homelessness.
“Centerstone gave me a chance when I didn’t think anyone else would,” she said.
Outcalt is giving back by working as a peer recovery specialist for a new Centerstone program designed to help the chronically homeless in a 10-county area, including in Brown County.
A three-year, $1.2 million federal grant is funding the Centerstone Connections program, designed to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
“I haven’t actually received any referrals from Brown County yet. We’ve been working a lot with referrals in Monroe and Morgan counties, but haven’t received any from Brown County,” said Brian Meyer, the program’s manager.
The grant money can be used to help the chronically homeless, or people who have been homeless for one year or longer and are currently homeless.
“Chronically homeless” is having at least four episodes of homelessness within the last three years.
Veterans can participate in the program even if they are not to the point of chronic homelessness. “We’ll help them regardless,” Meyer said.
Several factors can lead to chronic homelessness, but the most common causes are mental illness and substance abuse, which often are co-occurring conditions, Meyer said. Participants also must be suffering from those issues to join Centerstone Connections.
Outcalt said Centerstone paid for her to complete programs to become a certified community health worker and recovery specialist.
That education is enabling her to serve as peer recovery specialist for Centerstone Connections in Bartholomew, Brown, Monroe and Morgan counties, a role that will allow her to use her own story to show those still struggling with homelessness and addictions that their lives can get better.
“I just have that ‘If I can do it, you can do it’ attitude,” Outcalt said.
When a person is referred to Centerstone Connections, staff will gauge their willingness to work with the program, Meyer said.
“Some folks aren’t interested in receiving any assistance. Of course, we need to respect that,” Meyer said.
“But part of what we do want to work on is building that trust with them, because in many cases, somebody that has been homeless for that period of time has already had interactions with different community help organizations or other agencies. Of course, sometimes those haven’t always been positive experiences for them,” he said.
After clients accept services, staff will help identify the barriers that keep from permanently having a home, Meyer said.
“Those barriers can be a lot of different things. Anything from substance use to serious mental illness, lack of employment skills, lack of job history,” he said.
People in the program will also receive help applying for benefits, like Medicaid, food assistance or Social Security disability.
Mental health needs will be handled by Centerstone, Meyer said.
“Once we do address a lot of these barriers, our primary goal is to secure permanent housing for them,” he said.
If the person has serious mental health needs, housing could be in a facility Centerstone provides.
Other options, such as Section 8 housing vouchers or an apartment, will be used too, Meyer said.
“Regardless of what type of housing they end up with, we want to remain involved with them for a period of time to ensure they are getting the resources and assistance that they’ll require to be successful long-term,” Meyer said.
“This is not by any means a quick fix. This is something, long-term, that we want to stick with so that they can have a much better chance at being successful long-term.”
Outcalt said she knows from personal experience that it can be difficult to break free of the illnesses and addictions that can repeatedly force someone into that cycle.
But she said she also knows that with the right help and influences, anybody can decide to turn their life around and find a new beginning.
“You can change. It’s possible,” Outcalt said. “You have to work for it.”
Referrals to Centerstone Connections can come from nonprofit agencies, local law enforcement, the state Department of Corrections or community members. Additionally, Centerstone Connections staffers are committed to going out in the community and finding people in need.
To refer someone, contact Brian Meyer, program manager for Centerstone Connections, at email@example.com or call him at 812-929-6372.
- Outreach area: Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Fayette, Johnson, Monroe, Morgan, Rush, Shelby and Wayne counties
- Target demographic: Chronically homeless — four separate periods or at least one full year of homelessness
- Resources: Housing, mental illness/addiction recovery services, benefits assistance provided by peer recovery specialists and recovery coaches