Peer Support changes lives

From the desk of Rev. Andy Houltberg, CEO.


People facing mental health challenges due to trauma, substance abuse, and mental illness have difficulty maintaining housing and employment. According to SAMHSA, about 30% of people who are chronically homeless have mental health conditions, and about 50% have co-occurring substance use issues. Chronically homeless individuals are currently 19% of the homeless population. 


Decades of research have shown that Peer Support, via persons with lived experience, is an effective way to help stabilize individuals experiencing homelessness. Peer Support specialists acknowledge that everyone’s recovery is unique. These individuals serve as role models by sharing their personal recovery stories, showing that recovery is possible. They teach goal setting, problem-solving, and symptom management skills as well as working to empower others by helping them identify their own strengths, supports, resources, and skills. 

A Peer Support Specialist, or “Peer,” uses recovery-oriented tools to help their peers address challenges and build their own self-directed wellness plans. They support others in their decision-making by cultivating the abilities of their peers to make informed and independent choices. These specialists set up and sustain peer self-help and educational groups and advocate on behalf of these individuals by working to eliminate the stigma surrounding behavioral health disorders. Peers act as both a sounding board and a shoulder to lean on.

What we are doing:

At Breakthrough Episcopal Social Services, we are dedicated to helping people break through the cycle of poverty and mental illness and find hope and healing. Our mission is to help improve the quality of life for individuals in need and empower people in our community to build resilience. One of the most effective ways we achieve this is through our Peer Support program. This year we have seen an 88% retention rate in rapid rehousing due to the ongoing support people receive from their peers. One example of this success is in Deandre.

Deandre suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury that stopped a successful career and eventually led to homelessness and alcoholism.Through attending our free breakfasts, Deandre met the staff at Breakthrough and shared his desire to get into housing. Once he moved into his apartment, his Peer Support specialist visited him weekly. It quickly became apparent that his vulnerability was a challenge for the apartment’s downtown location, and the landlord was concerned about predatory guests staying there. 

The Peer worked closely with the landlord and Deandre. Unfortunately, there was no way of preventing these predatory guests because unless Deandre had staff right beside him, he did not have the ability to stop people from moving in. 

After a few months of working intensely with Deandre, his landlord asked that he move out. However, due to the work of his Peer, the landlord decided not to evict Deandre. Eviction would have made finding a new apartment much more difficult, so this was a great success. 

Breakthrough assisted him in moving out and worked in collaboration with his sobriety supports to find a new apartment that was away from downtown. The Peer Support Specialist continued to work with Deandre in his new location, helping him get acclimated to the new neighborhood and build up resources. 

While he has had some challenges in his new place since moving in, his Peer has helped him in establishing a new routine, and Deandre’s journey to sobriety is underway.

This is just one example of the crucial work done by Peer Support Specialists. They are skilled and caring individuals whom we are grateful to have working with us as part of our programming.

For more information on the role of Peer Support in our programming at Breakthrough Episcopal Social Services, click here.

To read more about SAMSHA and Peer Support, click here.

Rev. Andy Houltberg