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Interview with Kris Rittenmeyer

More than just lacking essential resources: Early trauma and mental illness often lead to homelessness.

“Not only is mental health a huge component in becoming homeless, but it can also be a huge component in remaining homeless.”

Finding housing for our clients at Primo Center is just one part of the scope of services we offer. It’s one thing to help someone go from homeless to having a safe and supportive place to go home to at the end of the day. It’s another thing to ensure they are prepared to take on the stresses that come with supporting themselves and their children within that home. Kris Rittenmeyer, Clinical Social Worker and Therapist, is well versed in preparing Primo Center’s clients to meet these challenges. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kris to discuss her therapeutic approach for the clients she serves at Primo Center. Kris’ extensive 16-year career as a clinical social worker, focusing on direct clinical care providing mental health and substance abuse services to at-risk and underserved families, strengthens Primo Center’s approach to mental health care.

Primo Center primarily serves mothers and children. How did you decide that this was a population where you wanted to focus your attention?

Over the years, I’ve observed that generational trauma can negatively affect a person’s entire life. These traumas significantly affect individuals with limited support systems. When a mother with limited resources like food and housing finds herself and her children without access to these basic needs, the stage is set for continued trauma to trickle down to other generations. My position at Primo Center allows me to take a proactive approach to trauma-informed care to decrease the likelihood of trauma affecting that family’s future – for both mother and child.

Why is a person’s mental health such an integral factor in them becoming homeless?

Sadly, there exists a stigma between homelessness and mental illness. Primo Center’s staff understands this and provides wraparound services to treat our clients’ minds and bodies. Unlike some other homeless shelters, Primo Center is not just a place to sleep – we offer psychiatric care, health care, financial guidance, and more. When a client and family enter Primo Center, our goal is to conduct a mental health assessment to discover what resources are most critical to serving that family. Because Primo Center is a residential shelter, I can be on-site with my clients to observe their support system and resources and more deeply interact with them.

Finally, how can society better help those around us who may be struggling with their mental health? What are additional resources needed?

I am a firm believer in education. As I mentioned earlier, the stigma around discussing mental health and ultimately seeking care for any issues remains one of the most significant barriers for people seeking help. Our job is to help break down those barriers so that people, and especially our clients, can get the help they may desperately need.
As for the additional resources, more law enforcement training can help officers more easily distinguish characteristics of mental illness from criminal behavior. Additionally, resources like The National Council for Behavior Health’s “Mental Health First Aid”, an online training course for the layperson to better understand mental illness, can help inform society about the mental health issues that others may be experiencing. Lastly, funding – without this, we cannot continue to provide the necessary resources to run our programs. Any little bit helps.

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