Peer Wellness Program and Pathways to Housing

Learn about a New York-based peer-run wellness program, which emphasizes empowerment, social inclusion, and collaboration.

The Peer Wellness Program, a service component of Pathways to Housing, New York (PTH-NY), is a 2009 Services in Supportive Housing (SSH) grantee funded by the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS).

The PTH-NY project provides an array of wellness services to participants, while offering their services to other agencies in New York City. However, their Peer Wellness Program’s exclusive reliance on peers is what makes this program unique. Their peer-run model emphasizes empowerment, social inclusion, and true collaboration.

The PTH-NY project provides a wide range of peer-delivered services. These services include a peer-led recovery center and service delivery model that embeds peer specialists with clinical teams; a collaborative, strengths-based peer coaching model; and a peer-involved research component that supports peers interested in delivering presentations at local and national conferences. The project offers participants assistance with an array of services, such as housing retention, employment, pursuing their education, securing entitlements, making social connections, criminal justice issues, reuniting with children and families, living healthier lifestyles, becoming financially informed, and dealing with trauma. The Peer Warm Line, where peers are able to provide extra support via telephone in the evening and on weekends, has been ongoing since the beginning of the program.

The Peer Wellness Program is staffed by a program manager, a program supervisor, and certified peer specialists. The peer staff involved in the program have lived experience with homelessness, mental illness, substance use, and time spent in mental health and criminal justice institutions. Additionally, the project recently added an LGBT support group and the “Mind Your Health" peer coaching initiative to assist individuals in attending to their physical health needs. These programs are possible due to a partnership with the Howie the Harp Advocacy Center, where all program staff become certified peer specialists after completing six months of classroom training with an additional three-month internship in the field. Peer staff are versed in recovery and wellness principles and have been trained in motivational interviewing, the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), and using a problem-solving method.

Other partnerships include the Center for Practice Innovations at Columbia Psychiatry, Harlem United, the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions at Rutgers, and Touro College.

PTH-NY uses a variety of evidence-based practices (EBPs) and promising practices. These practices include: Housing First, Supported Employment—IPS model, Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT), the Wellness Self-Management tool, and Assertive Community Treatment Model (ACT). The harm reduction model, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma-informed activities, "Mind Your Health" peer coaching curricula, the University of Colorado’s smoking cessation curriculum, and supported education are also used.

The project attributes its effectiveness to the value they place on input from staff and participants in shaping the program. This input has led to the monthly town hall meeting where anyone can raise issues and present ideas. This forum allows for input, creativity, and empowerment for all who are involved.

An example of the program’s impact can be seen in their Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) data. The data has shown a 72.5% increase in participants who are either attending school regularly or currently employed, with 38% of participants showing positive outcomes at follow-up. Social connectedness improved for 42.9% of consumers, resulting in 72% having positive outcomes at follow-up. The ability to function in everyday life improved for 44.3% of consumers, with over 70% having positive outcomes at follow-up. In addition, more than 80% of consumers have shown positive outcomes for reductions in serious psychological distress, binge drinking, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Stable housing and being retained in the community increased.

The essence of the Peer Wellness program is perhaps captured best in this participant’s comment: “They helped me bridge the gap between the person I was and the person I was becoming.”

Visit SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

Learn more about Housing First at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.

Publication Year

Joyce Dampeer
Last Updated: 08/12/2019