Housing is a critical factor in anyone’s overall health. Good-quality, affordable and safe housing is a vital component for individuals living with mental illness. Housing that enables individuals to live in fully integrated settings in their home communities is the cornerstone for successful recovery.
Recently, the Office of Mental Health (OMH) conducted interviews with service recipients who had moved from institutional settings to their own supportive housing apartment. One of them, whom we’ll call Mr. W, said, “This is something I never would have dreamed of… this is what I’ve always wanted… to start my life over in my own apartment.”
And Ms. M, who also moved recently, said she never wanted her family to visit when she was in an institutional setting. “That wasn’t my house, but THIS is my house… now they can come over anytime!” A third recipient, Mr. A, said he loves his new apartment and enjoys the freedom to shop for and cook his own meals. He also enjoys the responsibilities of doing his laundry and maintaining his home. “This is my apartment, and I’m proud of that,” he said.
New York leads the nation in providing more than 46,000 community-based mental health housing units and has pioneered model programs that have since been copied throughout the nation. We recognized early on that treatment of homeless individuals with mental illness often cannot even begin until they are safely housed.
Governor Cuomo understands the importance of safe and stable housing, and although this is a difficult budget year for New York State, his proposed Executive Budget increases support for OMH housing initiatives by an additional $20 million for existing residential programs. Since 2015, OMH support for these programs will have increased by $70 million.
The Executive Budget proposal also includes $60 million in capital to maintain and preserve community-based residences. In addition, the Governor’s proposed budget also provides $12.5 million for certain individuals living in transitional adult homes in New York City who wish to make the move to more-integrated settings in the community.
OMH oversees a large array of adult housing resources and residential rehabilitation programs—including licensed community residences, licensed-apartments treatment, single-room occupancy residences, and scattered-site supportive housing. Each residential setting is designed to provide the supports and services necessary for individuals to live in the least-restrictive setting possible. You can find more information about the many different housing programs licensed or operated by New York State at the end of this column.
The populations being served are varied and expansive – ranging from individuals who are homeless with SMI, to youth leaving foster care, to persons facing life challenges such as domestic violence and substance abuse.
This wide range of individuals often have multiple behavioral health and physical problems and their need for supports and services straddle multiple programs to address these needs. For example, a homeless individual living with HIV may also be coping with mental health and substance abuse issues. It is important that effective care coordination and care management services be readily available.
As part of Governor Cuomo’s 15-year plan to fund 20,000 new supportive housing units statewide, he created the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative (ESSHI) and an interagency workgroup of nine state agencies that has successfully completed four rounds of funding, with a fifth round set to begin in April. Under the last ESSHI funding round, more than 5,400 conditional awards for services and operating funding were made for projects around the state. These awardees are working with state, local and private sector partners to secure development financing to construct these new supportive units.
Of course, successfully treating people in their own community requires a commitment to strong community services. OMH has fulfilled this commitment by reinvesting savings from the closure of vacant and unnecessary inpatient beds into community services, allowing us to provide individuals with mental illness the right service, at the right time, in the right setting.
Since 2014, with a commitment of more than $100 million in annualized investments thus far, we have been able to provide services to more than 67,000 NEW individuals, bringing the total to approximately 800,000 people served in the public mental health system.
In addition to funding new supportive housing, reinvestment has allowed us to enhance state-operated community services – including crisis residences, sustained engagement support teams, and mobile integration teams that have served more than 14,000 additional individuals.
We have also funded a wide range of locally operated community-based programs – including peer crisis respite services, first-episode psychosis, community support teams, and home and community-based waiver services for nearly 34,000 individuals.
Because these community services are available, New Yorkers can get the support they need to avoid hospitalization and access inpatient services only when needed. As a result, more people living with mental illness are able to thrive in their own communities and their own homes.
As mentioned earlier, below is a list of the different housing programs that are either operated or licensed by OMH:
- Community Residences are transitional, rehabilitative programs that teach skills, offer support, and help residents achieve the highest level of independence possible. These residences are single-site facilities, with private or shared bedrooms, for up to 48 individuals. Meals are provided, as well as on-site rehabilitative services and 24-hour staff coverage. This level of housing is appropriate for individuals who can benefit from rehabilitative services in a non-hospital setting prior to placement in more-permanent community-based housing.
- Supported/Single Room Occupancy units provide long-term or permanent housing in which residents can access the support services they require to live successfully in the community. Front-desk coverage is provided 24 hours per day and providers must make any necessary services available to residents.
- Apartment Treatment provides a high level of support and skills-training to individuals in apartment settings. This licensed program is designed to be transitional, with an average length of stay of 18 months. Residents gain skills and independence, learn to use community programs, and develop a community-support system of friends and family. Apartment sites are usually scattered-site rental units located in the community.
- Community Residence/Single Room Occupancy are service-enriched, licensed, extended-stay housing with on-site services for individuals who want private living units, but who need assistance with self-maintenance and socialization skills. Living units are usually designed as studio apartments or as suites with single bedrooms around shared living spaces. There is 24-hour front desk security and services available, such as case management or life skills training.
- State-Operated Community Residence are licensed residential program that provide a therapeutic living environment for residents with mental illness. SOCR assists residents to develop skills necessary for successful reintegration into the community at their own pace.
- Supported Housing enables individuals to live independently in their own community. Many Supported Housing recipients are able to live in the community with a minimum of assistance, but support is available when needed. These are permanent community-based apartments, typically located in scattered site, privately-owned apartment settings.
This wide array of housing types enables individuals to choose the housing that fits their goals and needs as they pursue their recovery journey. The goal is always to enable each person to reach their fullest potential in the community of their choice.