What we do
Amistad exists to save and improve the lives of our community members who have been impacted by mental illness, substance use, homelessness, trauma, and poverty. We witness and celebrate recovery every day. All our street-level, low barrier programs are in place to address the following set of unacceptable realities:
Access to Healthcare and Treatment
Community and supports
Fighting food insecurity
Barriers to Healthcare and Treatment
Peer supporters have personal experience with challenges such as mental illness, substance use disorder, homelessness, etc and offer support and mentorship to others who are currently experiencing the same or similar experiences. Peers can often help those who struggle within other models of care, including those individuals who have complex, challenging issues and multiple barriers to improvement. Peers provide a living, breathing example of the possibility of recovery. They offer a different way of communicating. They enter every relationship as an equal, and they use their relationship with the individual they are working with to challenge, prod, cajole, and relentlessly cheer on those who, to some, may appear to be hopelessly stuck in the misery of their current reality.
Homelessness has become a malignant and intractable reality in Greater Portland. Successive community initiatives to address the issue have helped individuals secure housing, yet the numbers of people seeking emergency shelter or sleeping in spaces unfit for human habitation has remained steady. Data points to a strong correlation between homelessness and mental illness and substance use disorders. Acute mental illness often leads to an inability to secure a stable income, as well as to hospitalizations and other disruptions that decrease housing stability.
Amistad is a critical partner in our community’s efforts to end homelessness. We participate with the Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee and Long-Term Stayers Initiative. Our Peer Outreach Worker program engages individuals staying at the homeless shelters and living in other forms of homelessness, helping with housing resources, meeting basic needs, and making critical connections. Our Peer Support and Recovery Center offers free and low-cost meals, locker space, showers, laundry, a clothing closet, and mail services, all of which evolved to meet the needs of the growing numbers of people with mental illness who were experiencing homelessness.
Food insecurity is not a new reality in Maine. For those trapped in generational poverty, and for many who struggle with mental illness and substance use disorders, hunger and the inability to afford food are factors that aggravate symptoms, invite illness and distress, and help create starkly reduced life expectancy for the community we are serving. Food costs have risen dramatically over the last decade, while service industry wages and disability benefits hold individuals below the poverty line, even as access to food stamps has been dramatically reduced.
Amistad sees it as entirely unacceptable that any person in this state and community should be hungry. Our Peer Support and Recovery Center serves a free continental breakfast and a $2 hot lunch at our Driscoll’s Diner, which is open to the whole community. We accept food stamps, and provide people with the opportunity to volunteer in exchange for a free meal. Over the last five years we have seen a sharp decrease in the number of purchased meals, while the number of meals provided has held steady. This includes free food distributed each day from what we have left-over from the day’s meals. This worsening situation regarding the ability of many to afford even a very low-cost meal is requiring us to look for new funding to support this need.
Lack of access to healthcare and treatment
People with severe mental illness die up to 30 years earlier than the average. If this fact isn’t unacceptable, then we don’t know what is. In this state and in this country, the last several years have witnessed a reduction in access to affordable healthcare and necessary treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders. Many disabled Mainers have lost their insurance. Decades of regressive legislation has broadened economic inequality and stripped the neediest among us of basic supports and protections.
Amistad’s Peer Support and Recovery Center provides free resource connections for adults with mental illness who do not have access to case management supports. Our Peer Support Specialists assist struggling individuals with links to healthcare, counseling, and treatment, and the program offers a robust menu of peer-run support groups. Our Peer Support Team at Maine Medical Center and our Peer Outreach Worker program both work to help offer people who access emergency rooms for non-urgent care with more effective and less costly options.
Absence of community and supports
Loneliness, isolation, and lack of positive, sober relationships are factors that can perpetuate the misery, and impede the recovery, of those with mental illness and substance use disorders. For those struggling with symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or other chronic illnesses, meaningful community connection can have more value and positive impact than any medication or course of treatment.
All of Amistad’s programs are based on the simple but profound model of people helping people, also known as peer support. Adults with their own lived experience of mental illness, homelessness, or substance use disorders are hired to serve as guides, examples, and allies for those who are currently weighted down by their symptoms and circumstances. Our Peer Support and Recovery Center offers a true community-within-a-community, offering a home-like setting and the chance to develop meaningful, positive connections. The same peer support model guides our work at Maine Medical Center, Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, Mercy Hospital, and on the streets of Portland.
Unacceptable and tragic: the loss of hundreds of lives in this community to the scourge of opiates. An epidemic at the national level, opiate addiction shares characteristics with all substance use disorders, but is set apart by its staggering fatality rates. Each year, the names of those lost to opiate overdoses in the Greater Portland area are read aloud at a community vigil. It is a dishearteningly long list of names. Detox, housing, treatment, and recovery supports are vital ingredients in saving the lives of those addicted to opiates, yet these resources are in critically short supply in our community.
Amistad is a central partner in the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative (GPAC), which is working to develop a seamless system of care for those struggling with opiate addiction. Our Recovery Residences program, in partnership with Community Housing of Maine and supported through GPAC, has seen the implementation of a supported house for women with opiate addiction and a recent history of human trafficking and homelessness. We will be opening several more gender-specific recovery homes of this type. Concurrently, Amistad has developed a Women’s Annex, which provides peer support, recovery groups, and resources for women in the community struggling with this unforgiving addiction.