The Challenges of NY’s Supported Housing Program for Mental Illness

What Can We Learn from the Story of a Vulnerable Supported Housing Resident Failed by the System?

Tonight, at 9:00 p.m. (Eastern time) you might want to check out Frontline’s  “Right to Fail” airing on your local PBS station. This new Frontline documentary chronicles the challenges of New York’s Supported Housing Program for People with Mental Illness.

On February 20, 2019, ProPublica reported that,

“Thousands of New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses won the chance to live independently in supported housing, following a 2014 federal court order. Frontline and ProPublicainvestigate what’s happened to people moved from adult homes into apartments and find more than two dozen cases in which the system failed, sometimes with deadly consequences.”

The in depth reporting in “After Years in Institutions, a Road Home Paved With Hunger, Violence and Death” that led to the production of “Right to Fail” is at times, heart breaking to read. After moving into supported housing, Nestor Bunch, profiled in the story, cycled in and out of emergency departments, rehabilitation, and a treatment apartment program.

According to ProPublica,

Our joint reporting has shown how the government wasn’t tracking outcomes as some of the most vulnerable residents languished without the necessary support. We told the story of Nestor Bunch, whose road to independence was paved with hunger, violence and death. In response to the reporting, a federal judge ordered an independent assessment of the state’s incident reporting system, and the nation’s largest mental health organization urged more supported housing reforms.”

According to joint Pro Publica/Frontline/New York Times reporting on December 14, 2019, Nestor Bundh, age 54, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  For most of his life Bunch had not lived on unsupervised and on his own. 

“Historically, supported housing was meant as a finish line for those who had demonstrated, under decreasing levels of supervision, that they could live alone. But the court order ushered a wave of adult home residents directly into a system in which people like Bunch were expected, overnight, to be able to care for themselves.”

One result of the investigation is that “Officials said they have put an additional $10 million into staffing and training and stepped up payments to housing providers for new residents.” Perhaps with more personalized support services, Bunch will be able to successfully live in supported housing?

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