The American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies - Webinar

The Complexity of Providing Mental Health Support to Homeless Adults: Lessons from Milwaukee   (MEMBERS ONLY)

Presented by Debbie Minsky-Kelly

This webinar is only available to members
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Webinar Objectives:

  • Identify the unique challenges faced by homeless adults with severe mental health issues.
  • Recognize the historical and cultural barriers specific to African-American adults in seeking mental health treatment and how professionals can more effectively engage this community.
  • Describe the promising practice of Assertive Community Treatment as an alternative approach to delivering mental health services to homeless adults.


Addressing the needs of individuals with severe and persistent mental illness is the subject of important debates. This workshop explores the unique challenges faced by homeless adults in accessing quality mental health treatment and stabilization. The plight of Milwaukee’s homeless is highlighted as a case example of a uniquely racially segregated city that relies on one of the nation’s most broken mental health delivery systems. The implications of Milwaukee’s overwhelmingly African-American homeless population is critically analyzed as presenting unique challenges to making mental health services accessible to a community that may be highly suspicious of the mental health delivery system, with many solid historical reasons. The complexity of this issue in Milwaukee is compounded by the statutory role of law enforcement in the emergency detention process. These factors will be outlined and critically examined.

Individual case examples will be presented to demonstrate what occurs when homelessness and severe mental illness co-exist in a city with a fragmented mental health delivery system. The over-utilization of institutional care for poverty-stricken individuals facing mental health crises will be highlighted and questioned. Alternative approaches such as outpatient services will be scrutinized as to whether this is an accessible and realistic alternative to serving the needs of the homeless struggling with severe mental illness.

Presenter Biography:

Debbie Minsky-Kelly is a licensed clinical social worker who is the field director and clinical assistant professor at the School of Social Work at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Debbie has served as director for Rogers Memorial Hospital’s mental health and substance abuse services in Kenosha as well. In addition, Debbie was coordinator of a medical clinic serving homeless adults in Milwaukee. The combination of these professional roles informs Debbie’s knowledge of the complexity of providing mental health services to the homeless.

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