Homes are Transforming Lives of Individuals Recovering From Mental Illness

Mental Health Association of Oklahoma Preventing and Ending Homeless with Affordable Homes and Services

An October 12, 2019, article, “Fighting mental illness with affordable housing: What can Colorado Springs learn from this Tulsa nonprofit?” reports on how the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma uses an affordable housing strategy to end homelessness.

Affordable housing with flexible support services is improving and stabilizing the lives of its clients with mental illness by providing them with homes of their own.

Indivdiuals living with severe mental illness who at one time might have languished in state mental hospitals are living healthier, more stable lives and enjoying the independence of their own apartments. The Mental Health Association of Oklahoma provides us with yet another example that Housing is Healthcare. The organizations utilizes private funding to set aside existing apartments that become available in the private market into supportive housing.

Mental Illness can be one of the major reasons that an individual experiences chronic homelessness. But when you give someone experiencing chronic homelessness their own supportive housing apartment, no matter if they have mental illness, a physical illness and/or substance abuse issues, they are very often able to remain stably housed and their quality of life vastly improves.

NJCounts 2019, the point-in-time count of the homeless that took place on January 22, 2019, found 8,864 persons experiencing homelessness on a single night in the State of New Jersey. The NJCounts 2019 report shows correlations between homelessness, chronic homelessness, mental illness and substance use disorders. When self-reporting, individuals experiencing homelessness, specifically those reporting having a disability, often report having mental illness and/or a substance abuse disorder.

Fifty-one percent of homeless persons counted through NJCounts 2019 reported having some type of disability. 61.2% of adults 18 or older reported some type of disability. The most common disabilities included mental health issues and substance abuse disorders.

Among disabled persons, 59.6% reported mental health issues making this the most prevalent disability; representing 60.5% of the disabled adult homeless population and 30.1% of the total identified population experiencing homelessness. And 48.8% of disabled adults reported a substance abuse disorder.

NJCounts 2019 found 1,462 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and among that sub-population of the homeless population, 813 individuals, 55.6%, identified that they had a mental health issue.

The Mental Health Association of Oklahoma not only uses its supportive housing apartments to help individuals experiencing homelessness but also to prevent homelessness for individuals at risk due to their severe mental illness and/or substance abuse.

Having your own apartment, a home of your own, makes it much easier to do the things that many of us take for granted – keeping track of and remembering to take your medicine or making yourself a simple, healthy meal.

The article and Oklahoma example reminds us that

“It centers on a hard truth for any community seeking to finally tackle mental illness: Making meaningful headway is impossible without addressing the societal factors that play into a person’s well-being. So often, housing ranks at the top of that list.”

Housing is a right that we should all have – housing is healthcare and it crates healthy communities.

“It’s the deal maker or the deal breaker,” said Mike Brose, the nonprofit’s CEO (Mental Health Association of Oklahoma), over dinner at a downtown diner. “It’s all the difference in the world. If you don’t have a place to live, you can’t get anywhere.”

Housing is also a major social determinant of health along with healthy food, employment and the safety of one’s neighborhood. The support services provided to tenants are the key to the success of helping those who were once homeless or at risk of homelessness stabilize their lives. The Mental Health Association of Oklahoma even offers employment opportunities for its tenants who have mental illness, have had substance abuse issues and/or experienced homelessness. Providing clients with not only an apartment but a job, job training or educational opportunities is a key step in helping them become self-sufficient.

The Mental Health Association of Oklahoma is seeing that tenants in its affordable housing program are staying stably housed at a rate of 82%. And for families, this stabilization means better educational outcomes, too. With fewer evictions, kids can remain in their same schools and both families and individuals develop connections to their neighborhoods.