What Your Patients are Hearing

Coffee shop founder provides mental health intervention


A sign on the wall of the Sip of Hope Coffee Bar in the Logan Square area of Chicago reads: “It’s OK not to be OK.” The slogan is more than a way to distinguish the coffee shop from competitors. According to a report published recently in the Chicago Sun-Times, all money spent on beverages and pastries is donated to suicide prevention and mental health programs in the Windy City.

A cup of black coffee Lynda Banzi/IMNG Medical Media

“Sip of Hope is the brick-and-mortar version of what we do every day,” Jonny Boucher, who started a nonprofit called Hope for the Day in 2011 in an effort to make mental health issues part of the everyday conversation, said in the article. “I’ve lost 16 people to suicide, and I thought if I can just take this pain and I can do something with it, then I can allow others to do something with their pain.”

Mr. Boucher organizes a monthly get-together at the coffee shop where people can talk about their mental health struggles and find help and friendship.

“If I got paid $10 for every time someone said I saved their life, this organization would be bankrolled for eternity,” said Mr. Boucher. “There is no magic wand with mental health but I try to tell people – we’re all in this together – it’s not about me, it’s about we.”

Housing First program launched

A housing program being offered in some parts of Kansas, including Wichita, is making housing available to people with mental illness without the traditional requirements of a nightly curfew or adherence to sobriety.

“What we’re doing with a program like this is essentially leveling the playing field so that people who have for some reason become homeless have the same opportunity to have and keep housing as the rest of us,” Sam J. Tsemberis, PhD, a psychologist who founded Pathways to Housing in New York City and is spearheading the program in Kansas, said in an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Most people in Kansas don’t have sobriety and treatment requirements in order to stay housed. And if they did, we’d be in a lot more trouble on the homelessness front.”

Dr. Tsemberis said his philosophy about providing housing for people with mental illness stems from his work years ago at Bellevue Hospital in New York. During his commute, Dr. Tsemberis said, he “passed people on the sidewalk he had just treated as patients, still wearing the hospital pajamas they were dispatched in.”

“A community’s social structure is impaired when people can walk by somebody who is homeless on the street,” Dr. Tsemberis, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University in New York, said in the interview. “It’s not just the person who is homeless, who is isolated and disconnected. It’s everybody else who walks past them that also has to cut off a part of their humanity in order to tolerate being able to walk past another human being who is sitting there.”

More than 2,000 homeless people live in Kansas, and Wichita is the hub. So far, more than 320 Kansas residents have entered the Housing First program, and more than 240 have found permanent housing.

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