Note: Sources of information for this post are NAMI.org, southeast.org, ood.ohio.gov, “When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness” by Rebecca Woolis, and my six years working in an organization that provided housing for the mentally ill.
The lack of safe and affordable housing is one of the most powerful barriers to recovery from mental illness. When this basic need isn’t met, people cycle in and out of homelessness, jails, shelters and hospitals.
I agree with a philosophy called Housing First: Having a safe, appropriate place to live can provide stability to allow people with mental illness and/or substance abuse to stabilize and recover. Unfortunately, this housing is relatively rare. It takes organization and effort to get someone into the system.
As we all know, there’s not enough funding to cover the needs of people with mental illness. If the funding existed, case managers, social workers and vocational counselors would be handling housing and money issues for our loved ones. Since there isn’t enough money to go around, families often have to get involved.
Because of this, my No. 1 tip in dealing with the system is to make friends with a social worker. I met social workers at NAMI family support groups and events. This was invaluable in helping me understand how the system REALLY works. I also got excellent advice about where my son should be placed on a waiting list for housing.
What the Law Says
Several pieces of federal legislation prevent discrimination against people with mental illness in employment and housing. The most important in obtaining housing is Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act). For most residential buildings (except some small owner-occupied buildings), this law forbids discrimination, such as refusing to rent or sell, denying that housing is available, and renting or selling on different terms.
That said, a history of arson and/or sexual assault usually keeps individuals out of housing for people with mental illness. Housing for people with mental illness is usually called housing for the disabled, in part to keep the neighbors from fighting it. People who are currently homeless usually get more help from organizations than those who are not.
Many people with a serious mental illness live on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which averages just 18% of the median income and can make finding an affordable home near impossible.
Housing options range from completely independent living to 24/7 care. The type of housing that is right for your loved one can depend on whether they need assistance paying bills, cleaning and making appointments or require no assistance at all. Here’s a look at some of the housing available.
Supervised Group Housing: Trained staff members are present 24/7 to provide care and assistance with things like medication, daily living skills, meals, paying bills, transportation and treatment management. These group homes provide their residents with their own beds, dressers and closet space, and shared bathrooms and common areas. This is the best type of housing for people experiencing a serious mental illness which may affect their ability to perform their daily tasks. There’s virtually none of this in my part of the country, central Ohio.
Partially Supervised Group Housing: Some support is provided for the residents, but staff isn’t there 24 hours a day. The residents can be left alone for several hours and are able to call for help if needed. People who choose to stay in these group homes can perform their daily living tasks independently or semi-independently, help with cooking and cleaning and may even hold a part-time job or participate in a day program.
Permanent Supportive Housing: Supportive housing provides very limited assistance. The residents of these homes live almost independently and are visited by staff members infrequently. Community mental health center and social workers on site to help. Health care comes in.
Rental Housing: Rent can be paid for in full by the individual or subsidized by a third party, such as the government or a non-profit agency. Someone who chooses this type of housing can take care of all their basic needs like cooking, cleaning, paying bills and managing their medication. They also may have a job and have or be seeking custody of children. If this is the right type of housing for your loved one, then they will still most likely work with a caseworker to manage their recovery.
Affordable Senior Housing: When your loved one becomes 55 or older, they usually qualify for affordable senior housing, such as offered by National Church Residences in 25 states. This housing for low-income seniors has no supportive services.
Ways to pay
Section 8: The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a number of housing assistance and counseling programs. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) is the federal government’s program for assisting low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. HUD also helps apartment renters by offering reduced rents to low-income residents. Under this program, a renter pays 30 percent of their gross adjusted income for housing and utilities. The landlord then receives a voucher from the federal government which covers the remainder of the rent.
Section 811: The Supportive Housing for People with Disabilities Program (Section 811) is a federal program dedicated to developing and subsidizing rental housing for very or extremely low income adults with disabilities, like a chronic mental illness. The biggest difference between this program and similar ones is that it provides housing specifically for the disabled and ensures that all housing has access to appropriate supportive services like case management and employment assistance.
Applying for housing
If you can get a social worker or case manager to help fill out applications for jobs and housing, do so. You can practice any interview with your loved one. Interview tips include:
- Don’t volunteer information about medical history.
- Do not lie about job history, including positions held or lengths of time worked.
- If asked about gaps in employment history, you can say “I was recovering from an illness,” “I was participating in a vocational rehab program” or “I was taking some classes.”
- If there’s concern about ability to pay rent, you can say, “I have a guaranteed disabilities payment.”
Co-signing a lease makes you legally responsible for making sure the rent is paid during the period of the lease. Before you decide to do this, assume that you will pay all the rent and look at how that will impact you. Make your decision based on that. You also may become responsible for damages to the apartment, so be aware of that as well.
Housing in Columbus Metro Area
To apply for Community Housing Network housing, please call the Community Housing Network Intake Department at 614-487-6700. CHN has developed and manages more than 1,200 apartments. CHN provides rent subsidies to an additional 400 residents renting from private landlords. CHN also provides all customary property management.
National Church Residences takes its residents through Community Shelter Board, so call there.
To apply for Unified Supportive Housing System, apply for Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County housing, go to the Community Housing Network website, complete the CHN USHS Housing Request and submit to the CHN Intake Department.
Housing providers include:Alvis, Equitas, Community Housing Network, Maryhaven, National Church Residences, Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio, YMCA, and YWCA. These organizations usually take the homeless first. Ways to be homeless can vary, including couch surfing, or staying for one friend after another.
Next time we will talk about processes for getting a job when your loved one is recovering.