Project 50

Two substance abuse counselors from Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services are part of the Project 50 team that provides permanent housing and other services to the most vulnerable homeless people in downtown Los Angeles.

Started as a pilot project in 2007, the county-funded program initially aimed to identify and find the 50 homeless people most likely to die on the streets and get them into safe housing where they could receive easy access to medical and psychiatric care, as well as other social services. The program has since expanded to include 75 residents, about half of whom receive substance abuse counseling from Didi Hirsch counselors.

“The program has gone amazingly well,” says Ruthann Markusen, director M.S., RAS, CADC-II, director of Didi Hirsch’s Substance Abuse Programs. “Our counselors have been very good at engaging the most difficult people and many of them are staying clean and sober, which is really great.”

The counselors use motivational interviewing techniques, an evidence-based counseling model that involves collaboration and empathic conversation to help clients overcome ambivalence and strengthen their motivation for change, Markusen says.

The counselors run a weekly women’s group and a yoga group in addition to the individual counseling, which usually takes place in the local park, on the sunroof of the apartment complex or in the apartments themselves, Markusen says.

“These aren’t office visits,” Markusen says. “The counselors look for them wherever they hang out. They knock on doors, meet them at the park or on the sunroof of the apartment complex in order to reach them where they live. This is true social work.”