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Companions in Healing
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At the Plymouth House of Healing in Seattle, residents who are in recovery from homelessness and mental illness receive companionship, healing, and a sense of community. The centerpiece of the program is companioning. Along with safe housing, the program offers healing through these relationships with volunteer Companions.

Prior to coming to work at the Plymouth House of Healing, Executive Director Gary Southerton always felt powerless walking down the street. He saw people living in poverty and wanted to have an impact. Like many people, he never knew what to do. Now he knows 38 of those people by name. The Plymouth House of Healing offers them companionship, connection, safety, and healing.

Plymouth Healing Communities consists of three houses and two small apartment buildings. Based on the companionship model, they all provide warmth and safety for residents to pause, reflect, and consider the next steps in their lives. Since Mr. Southerton’s arrival, the agency increased its capacity from 15 to 38 beds.

The House of Healing is a short-term facility for residents just released from psychiatric hospitalization. Craig Rennebohm is the founder. He is a minister and author of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God, a book about companioning outreach. The House of Healing can accommodate four residents at a time for up to 6 months. Residents and Companions share rooms at the house, with a Companion ratio of one-to-one. The aim is to reduce isolation for people through the layering of companionship and compassion.

Agape House, Hoffman House, Argonaut Apartments, and the Admiral Apartments are Plymouth Healing Communities’ permanent residences that include part-time support from a floating community Companion. These residences offer more independence, continuation of community, attention, progression of recovery, and integration into the community.

Companions come from all walks of life to be of service, reflecting on their own growth while helping others. While companioning is difficult to define, House Manager Lisa Bakke has a unique understanding of the philosophy. “I think of companioning as a verb, as an art form. It is about showing up as your whole authentic self at any given time, in order to understand who residents are and what is manifesting in their lives and their illnesses,” she said. Her role is to train new Companions to walk a path with residents transitioning from homelessness and recovering from institutionalization.

The agency is in the process of expanding the companion program, so that Companions are available in all five houses. Each house has community mental health supportive services and links to the community-at-large to reduce the stigma associated with homelessness and mental illness. All promote interaction with churches and other community groups.

Mr. Southerton described a recent evening at the House of Healing, “One of the residents who had come from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to live with us . . . was sitting down to the evening meal. This is something we consider a centerpiece of companionship.” The man said, “I have never done this before. I have never in my whole life sat down at a table and shared a meal with other people.” In Mr. Southerton’s view, “It provides an opportunity for mutual nourishment of the spirit, food, conversation, and a space to share gratitude.”

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A program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services