From ‘the Jungle’ to a Job: Behavioral Health Supported Employment

The King County Behavioral Health Supported Employment Program serves 800-900 job seekers per year who have chronic mental health and substance use conditions and are getting back to work with the support of the program. This is just one success story, as told by Stephen McLean and supported employment partners at Sound, a King County contracted provider of mental health and substance use disorders.

After struggling for years with alcohol addiction, Robert moved back to Seattle in 2016 when his mother died in Arizona. Although he was working day labor in construction, he was only receiving minimum wage – not enough to rent an apartment. So he found himself living in Seattle’s infamous “Jungle,” a homeless encampment at South Royal Brougham Way.

“I was determined to get out of that situation,” Robert says, so he stayed out of the mix of personalities in the encampment and focused on work. That all changed when he had a bad, mixed-drug reaction to one dose of Suboxone that landed him in the emergency room at Harborview Medical Center. After his release, he spent several days at Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland, an inpatient behavioral health facility.

From there, he was referred to Sound and assigned to clinician Meagan Narvaez for case management and Leslie Lee, a vocational specialist at Sound working within the King County Behavioral Health Supported Employment Program for job support.

Within six months the team found housing for him in the Central District, and he was one of the first to apply at a new low-income facility. Lee was able to advocate for him and secure a job with Tuxedos & Tennis Shoes Catering. He graduated out of the SEP program in November 2017 after completing 270 days of full-time employment and he now aspires to gain more responsibility within the company.

“I have been blessed,” he says. “I was determined to do anything I had to do to get housing and employment.”

“Working with Robert has been impactful for both of us,” Narvaez emphasizes. “He knew what he wanted, housing and a job, and worked hard to get them. He maintained sobriety, showed up for appointments, and survived. A lot of where Robert is right now comes from his resilience.”

“Robert is a gem,” enthuses Lee. “I knew he was serious and motivated to get a job. He did not want to backslide into homelessness again. We were able to move him into housing and a job very quickly. He has future goals, such as possibly getting another job, traveling, and reconnecting with his family.”

Now that he has a roof over his head and a job that keeps him motivated, Robert is turning to improving other aspects of his life. This includes working on his physical well- being and behavioral health issues.

“I like it here in Seattle,” he says. “I want to save money, take care of myself, and see my family.”

Robert is just one of the many individuals benefiting from the inclusion of employment services in “best practice” behavioral health treatment. For more information about the program, visit www.kingcounty.gov/employmentpartners or contact Lisa Floyd, BHRD Supported Employment Program Manager.