Orange County Government, Florida
22 December 2015
“Day of Giving” Helps Local
Homeless who have Mental Illness
Orange County’s Crisis Intervention Team hosts Day of Giving at Pathways Drop-In Center.

On December 12, members of Orange County’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) hosted “Day of Giving,” a holiday celebration for the patrons of Pathways Drop-In Center, which is a local organization serving homeless individuals who have mental illness. The partnership between CIT and Pathways is unique, but it’s also a natural fit. Members of CIT include law enforcement and correctional personnel who have specialized skillsets, which helps them better identify the signs of mental illness, when an individual may be in crisis and ultimately de-escalate a situation before any harm is done. The goal is to provide help when appropriate, instead of arrest or incarceration.

The annual holiday event, which provides this population with an opportunity to replenish basic living essentials, also helps bridge compassion and builds a better understanding of the unique challenges these individuals face. In speaking with the patrons of Pathways, it is not uncommon to find that many hold higher degrees of education, have military service, or backgrounds that one might least expect of an individual who is homeless.

“Mental illness does not discriminate. It can affect anyone; no matter your educational level, your ethnicity, your age, or how much money you make,” said Pathways Board Member Donna Helsel. “Where you have been in life before does not mean that you are not maybe going to be affected by a mental health diagnosis someday.”

This year “Day of Giving” was sponsored by Matern Professional Engineering (MEP), who ensured that as many as 200 patrons would celebrate the start of the holidays as so many others do, with a delicious hot meal. Matern also sent several employees to join other volunteers, who helped sort and organize the donations making it easier for patrons to find what they needed. Senior Vice Presidents of MEP Ryan Strandquest and Judy D’Angelo were both incredibly humbled by the experience, with Strandquest describing Pathways “as an incredible group of people that care for those in our community who might otherwise go without.”

For those unfamiliar with the drop-in model, Pathways does not serve as an overnight shelter. Pathways serves as a safe haven for individuals to visit during the day where they can connect with mental health services, take a break from the elements, eat or even use the internet to search for employment, other assistance, or connect with loved ones. Held annually, “Day of Giving” also serves as an opportunity for those dependent on the kindness of others to replenish basic items of necessity, including clothing, hygiene products, sleeping bags, and canned foods. While the event is organized by law enforcement and corrections, local businesses who incorporate giving back within their annual celebrations with employees, remain huge supporters. Special thanks to Physical Therapy Specialists and Matern Professional Engineering for making this year’s event a success.

“Today was great. I thank all the people that donated,” says Patrica, one patron of Pathways, who couldn’t help but smile in response to the kindness she had experienced on this special day.

View a video recap of the event.