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A place to call home, a place to recover

March 1, 2006
by NELSON BURNS and JULIA STEINBERG
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An agency's supported housing approach garners national recognition


Nearly one-third of homeless people suffer from a mental illness, according to SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services. Research has shown that the majority of homeless people with a mental illness lack access to supportive services, such as housing programs and counseling centers. Yet the National Mental Health Association has found that supported housing is an effective option for communities working to meet the needs of people with mental health disorders who are homeless and trying to become productive members of society.

At Coleman Professional Services, a private, nonprofit behavioral health provider in Kent, Ohio, we recognize the benefits of supported housing programs. In fact, our efforts won us Eli Lilly and Company's 2005 Reintegration Award in the Home Sweet Home category for our housing program. In this article, we describe our housing program and how we are helping homeless people with mental illness get off the streets and into treatment.

Housing Resources

Our goal for clinical and residential services is to proactively create a seamless system of care focused on best practices and risk management. Coleman concentrates on recovery and an individual's ability to work, and continuously implements policy improvements to maintain our priorities in those areas.

In 1993, Coleman's operations services, a unit of Coleman that works hand in glove with the behavioral health staff to coordinate care for adults with chronic mental illnesses, began to handle the growth of Coleman's housing resources. Operations services handles the Coleman-owned rental properties for independent living clients in our residential program. The properties are available for rent to individuals who have a history of, or are currently recovering from, a severe and persistent mental illness. Priority is given to individuals who are homeless, recently hospitalized or discharged from a hospital's crisis unit, or at risk of homelessness. People with a history of evictions and landlord complaints also are targeted.

Approximately 50% of the consumers living in these homes have a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse. Some individuals have a dual diagnosis of mental illness and mental retardation. Approximately 10% of tenants have a physical disability.

In addition to the 48 independent apartment living sites, Coleman's residential services owns and operates 3 supported living sites and 2 group homes serving approximately 105 individuals on a yearly basis. The residential program has two parts: residential treatment and supported group living.

The residential treatment program has two seven-bed group homes for adults with behavioral problems, severe mental disabilities, and co-occurring disorders who are striving toward integrating back into the community. The homes are designed to maximize the individual's ability to live in the least restrictive environment, attain and maintain independent living in the community, and minimize hospitalization. The goal is to provide them with the ability to continue to learn, grow, and lead productive lives in their community. Staff is present 24/7.

The supported group living program includes three congregate living homes designed to provide residents with more independence while having the support of a Coleman staff member at all times. These homes also include additional on-site support by case managers. The supportive group living homes’ goal is to provide the least restrictive environment for residents while attaining and maintaining independent living in the community.

Alarm systems are in place at our Crisis Residential Treatment location for employees in case of an emergency with a client. Employees wear alarms at all times. Emergency signals are received by a local fire department and EMS, as well as Coleman's Emergency Prescreening and 24-Hour Crisis Intervention Services. It's worth noting that 95% of residents say they feel safe in their living environment and that staff are reliable.

Treatment and Service Philosophy

Case managers are an integral part of the program. They work with each tenant to help him/her develop an individualized client service plan. The plans are consumer-generated, goal-oriented, and based on the individual's strengths, needs, and desires. Our focus on recovery and an individual's ability to work is always at the forefront.

Client service plans are one of the keys to our seamless system of care. The plans include all services the tenant needs, which are provided both within and outside Coleman Professional Services. Case managers review plans every 90 days, and plans are revised as the tenant's needs change.

Residents work with case managers on individual housing plans throughout their entire stay, as the program is targeted to help individuals eventually transition back into society. However, residents stay in Coleman's housing program until their goals are met, regardless of the length of time.

We also use an effective orientation guide that the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) has recognized. This guide is designed to integrate people with special needs into the community, specifically those who have never lived independently. It is divided into five sections that discuss common issues new tenants face when moving into independent living, such as safety, fair housing, consumers’ rights and responsibilities, apartment standards, and neighbor relations. (This guide is available at nonprofit and for-profit rates. E-mail tammy.weaver@colemanprof.com.)

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