Humboldt County receives funds to expand peer-support services

The county plans to expand services that let people who know what it's like to be an at-risk youth help others in the same situation.

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services is receiving more than $800,000 this year to fund an integrated continuum of services for local at-risk youth transitioning into adulthood.

The county's project was approved last week by a state commission and will be funded by the Mental Health Services Act. The MHSA -- also known as Proposition 63, which was passed by voters in 2004 -- takes a 1 percent tax from the personal income of millionaires to fund a range of prevention, early intervention and other service needs.

DHHS Director Phillip Crandell said the funding will go toward hiring five peer-support specialists, people who have gone through the challenges of not having a traditional support system or know what it's like to be a foster youth transitioning out of state services. The county is expecting to begin hiring specialists in the fall.

The program focuses on transition-age young adults from ages 21 to 25. It also assists foster youth who are close to age 18 or have aged out of foster care.

”California has done a poor job of supporting its foster youth historically, and Humboldt County is one of the counties in the state that is unwilling to continue the lack of support foster youth have had,” Crandell said.

Crandell said it's a group that is often ignored because they

re transitioning out of social services and are at high risk for poverty and continuing mental health issues.

”Eighty to 90 percent have experienced a lot of trauma, and they have ongoing mental health issues as well as ongoing support and life skills that they normally learn from their parents,” he said.

The project is hoping to help as many as 60 young adults, and aims to achieve fewer hospitalizations, fewer psychiatric emergencies, decreased incarceration, and increases in recovery, housing, education, vocation and relationship permanency.

Tia Richardson, 24, a member of the Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration's Youth Advisory Board, said she would have appreciated some peer-to-peer support when she was trying to transition out of using mental health services. The board is made up of transitional-age youth providing input on county health services.

Richardson, who has attempted suicide in the past and also cut herself, was a frequent user of the county's mental health services programs.

Although she received some support through a case worker and a therapist, someone who understood what she was going through would have helped her through the process immensely, she said.

”In my situation, it would have definitely been helpful to have someone there to help me learn some of those life skills instead of trying to learn the hard way,” Richardson said.