The Office of Consumer Advocates, Inc. (OCA, Inc.) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit organization whose administrative office is located at 121 East Antietam Street in Hagerstown, MD 21740. OCA has existed for 16 years and assists people with mental health problems and runs several programs. The staff who work in these programs are individuals with lived experience with mental health challenges themselves and so, provide peer support services. Several of the staff are Certified Peer Recovery Specialists.
The organization operates in 3 counties in western Maryland-- Washington, Allegany, and Garrett, all of which are generally considered to be rural counties. All services provided through OCA are free of charge.
A brief description of each follows:
• Peer Support and Advocacy provides services in Hagerstown as well as Garrett County to help individuals to navigate the disability income benefits process, to link individuals with services, transportation, and treatment, as well as to advocate on other issues, including landlord-tenant or other social difficulties. Peer Support provides 1:1 support with these issues and many others. In addition, the Program Manager of OCA, who staffs Peer Support, consults with staff throughout OCA regarding housing, support, and other assistance.
• Soul Haven is a Wellness and Recovery program in Washington County that is designed to help people with mental health and substance use challenges to improve their health and well-being and to reach the goals they have for better lives. Soul Haven provides support and educational groups, meals, 1:1 support and other services to approximately 40-50 people/day. Many of the individuals who attend Soul Haven are homeless.
Beginning in 2012, OCA partnered with the Washington County Health Department to make Soul Haven a behavioral health program, integrating substance use services more fully into the program. These services are provided by recovery coaches, peers with lived experience with their substance use challenges. Soul Haven operates 7 days/week, from 12-6 p.m. In addition, as part of Soul Haven, OCA has a transportation service that provides rides to people to attend Soul Haven and other OCA and community appointments.
• Self-Directed Care (SDC) is a unique person-centered program; the only one in Maryland, in which staff work with individuals to help them identify health, employment and educational goals and to provide the tools they need to achieve these goals. This is a 1:1 program in which a peer advocate works with an individual to achieve life goals for a better life in as many domains of their lives as possible. One difficulty is that SDC's participants are virtually all living below the FPL(Federal Poverty Level) and face frequent challenges in maintaining stable life situations because of this. SDC is open 8:30-3:30 M-F.
• Listening Line is a “warm” line that operates from 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and serves as a support and easy place to reach for individuals who are having difficulties and need someone to listen. Listening Line also refers individuals, as needed, to community providers to help them further with problems that they are experiencing.
• Food pantry: OCA also operates a food pantry supplied to a large extent by commodity foods through the Maryland Food Bank. This program serves individuals and families throughout Washington County and Allegany County.
• HOPE Station, in Allegany County, is the Wellness and Recovery Center. Cumberland, where HOPE station is housed, is smaller than Hagerstown, the attendance averages between 10-20 people/day. The same types of groups/classes are offered depending on the annual needs assessment and satisfaction survey.
• Mountain Haven, in Garrett County, is a Wellness and Recovery Center. Garrett is our most rural and least populated area that attracts a number of tourists because of the existence of Deep Creek Lake. The demographics are a bit skewed as many people have vacation homes in Garrett which distorts the County overall poverty level. Mountain Haven is analogous to Soul Haven and HOPE Station and provides similar mental health services and assistance with entitlement benefits.
OCA is also active on many levels in a variety of community efforts. In Washington County, OCA participates in the Washington County Homeless Coalition, the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Committee, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration Council, the Co-occurring Integrated Services Committee, and the Consortium of Food Pantries in Washington County. In Allegany and Garrett, we are members of the Mental Health Advisory Councils and, in Allegany, the Mental Health Consumer Advisory Council and Homeless Coalition.
OCA has a total staff across all three counties of 22 individuals with lived experience. Some work part-time, but many now work full-time.