After 19 years of helping adults who have mental illness, the Rainbow Recovery Center will close its doors in downtown on June 30.
It will be replaced the following day by the Community Outreach and Recovery Support Team, a new mobile mental health model that providers believe will be more effective than the current approach of serving those in need from a stationary location.
“We’ll come to them, wherever they are,” said Tom Sebastian, CEO of Compass Health, which operates Rainbow Recovery Center and its replacement, the CORS Team.
Rainbow Recovery Center – long known as the Rainbow Center and currently at 209 W. Holly St. – opened March 1998.
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Its goal is to help people recover from the effects of their mental illness through services that include support groups and peer counselors, become part of the community, and lead lives with purpose, according to Compass Health.
The number of people helped at the center each day ranged, on average, from a high of 100 to a little more than 40 currently. Historically, they were primarily people who were homeless.
Over the years, the center gained a reputation for helping people but also for attracting homeless who simply wanted to hang out there without accessing services, including outside – a concern for nearby merchants, downtown patrons, and others who wanted and needed help but perhaps didn’t feel safe going to the site.
Compass Health made changes to counter that, and the situation also was helped by Lighthouse Mission Ministries’ expansion of its Drop-In Center hours on West Holly Street though it wasn’t entirely alleviated.
The mobile team will address those concerns, according to Compass and others working to help those with mental illness.
“Our attempt was really to solve two issues in one,” said Anne Deacon, human services manager for the Whatcom County Health Department.
She was referring to feelings of safety for downtown patrons and those accessing services at the center.
Sebastian said other reasons for providing mobile services included:
▪ stigma that was still attached to mental health issues, making some reluctant to seek help at a specific location.
▪ becoming more responsive to clients’ needs by reaching out to them where they are. At the core is “not having people have to come to us,” Sebastian said.
▪ not wanting to duplicate services also offered by Lighthouse Mission.
The mobile team will be based at a Compass Health location on East McLeod Road but will go out into the community, collaborating with others who help the homeless and the mentally ill, and expanding its reach to those who have yet to receive its services.
The team will receive referrals from service providers and law enforcement. Members also will go to homeless camps and sites that provide assistance to those without housing, such as the Drop-In Center, which is serving as a temporary low-barrier shelter for the homeless.
“It’s going to take some time. Otherwise, they would already be in services,” said Margaret Rojas, human resource manager for North Sound Behavioral Health Organization, which helps fund the services being provided by Compass Health.
“For a lot of the outreach, it’s just making that connection. They’ll begin to recognize you. They’ll begin to trust you,” Rojas said. “It’s a long process to do that, especially for folks that have been living on the street for a very long time.”
The mobile team will consist of four people.
Two will provide mental health and housing services. Two will be certified peer counselors – who have themselves experienced homelessness or behavioral health issues – and will offer to help with things such as building social skills, accessing job training, and other skills needed for daily life.
As for the Rainbow Center, people will have a chance to gather June 27 to acknowledge what the center has meant to them.
Rainbow Center closing
An event to say goodbye to Rainbow Recovery Center has been set for noon to 3 p.m. June 27 at 209 W. Holly St. in Bellingham.
Organizers said it will give people who have been helped or otherwise connected to the center a chance to see each other and remember what the center has meant to them. Compass Health, its operator, will close the center June 30, replacing it with a mobile mental health program.
Services such as group support meetings are being moved to the Compass Health location at 3645 E. McLeod Road in Bellingham.
Details, including how to reach the mobile mental health team starting in July, are available at 360-676-2220 and compasshealth.org.