Sunday, July 04, 2010

NIMBYism biggest barrier to supportive housing for homeless, mentally ill

This blog frequently laments the extent to which the justice system has become the primary delivery vehicle for mental health services, so I was interested to see a couple of stories out of the Austin Statesman focused on community-based solutions. "Helping the homeless on their own terms" details the activities of a nonprofit doing field work and case management among the mentally-ill homeless, while another story describes the dearth of supportive housing options to keep such folks from cycling in and out of jail.
Supportive housing — low-income housing that offers social services to its residents — is crucial for keeping people off the streets, said Walter Moreau , executive director of Foundation Communities, a nonprofit agency that provides low-cost housing to needy people.

Those services can include on-site programs such as money management classes and social workers to connect people to Social Security, food stamps and other public benefits.

"You need a variety of ways to help people where they're at," Moreau said.

Advocates for homeless people say Austin doesn't have nearly enough supportive housing units.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development , Travis County has 540 permanent supportive housing beds. The Corporation for Supportive Housing recently concluded that Austin needs about 1,900 more such units.
Part of the reason for the dearth of supportive housing is a persistent, NIMBY-driven backlash against any new facility aimed at this population - an incredibly short-sighted position considering the lack of housing makes it more likely they'll commit new crimes. Describing opposition to supportive housing for the homeless in Dallas' Lake Highlands neighborhood, the Dallas News reported:
It has been difficult to find neighborhood support for this type of housing, even beyond Lake Highlands and north Oak Cliff. Deep Ellum residents objected to a proposal to build 100 units there. Plans for similar housing have fallen through in South Dallas, the Cedars and at another Lake Highlands site. Meanwhile, several more projects are in the pipeline.

Advocates for the housing say that resident opposition is making it difficult to achieve the City Council-approved goal of creating 700 units of permanent supportive housing by 2014. Experts say that this type of housing, which includes treatment services, is key to ending chronic homelessness. 
Relatedly, see this sadly typical story out of Mesquite of a family struggling with the behavior of a mentally ill teen. He's been in and out of jail and his family is at their wits end, fearing he'll end up dead or in prison. According to the Dallas News:
The Mesquite couple's ordeal illustrates the complications that can surface for families trying to care for a loved one with serious mental illnesses: There's not enough treatment available, the person with the illness often rejects help, and problems boil to a crisis point – often leading back to shelters or jail.

"The system to help these kids stinks to high heaven because there is none," Susan Koshar said.

Officials who work in the criminal justice system say they see people like Brown all the time. And there aren't enough services to help them, said Ron Stretcher, director of Dallas County's criminal justice department. Texas ranks 48th in the nation in per capita spending on mental health, according to a Mental Health America survey.

"In Texas, we just don't provide for this population," Stretcher said. "There's nothing out there."
If the public want the City to address homelessness, mental illness and petty crime, they must be willing to provide community-based services in addition to only jails. Supportive housing for the most resource-intensive people - particularly those who are essentially "frequent flyers' at the county jail - is among the most promising approaches toward reducing crime among this group, but those services must actually be physically delivered somewhere.


Anonymous said...

I do patient advocacy work on a national level for people on Medication Assisted Treatment for substance abuse (methadone and suboxone), and have become very familiar with the ongoing problem of NIMBYism. Despite this being a proven, effective treatment for opioid abuse (in fact, far and away the MOST effective), people assume all kinds of unfounded things about these clinics and band together with the tar and feathers and pitchforks whenever and wherever one tries to open. Showing evidence that they lead to a decrease in crime, that they do not affect property values, and most importantly, that the patients are already IN their communities, UNtreated, does nothing. We have the legal protection of the ADA, but all too often, the clinics simply go on down the road rather than invoke expensive lawsuits, and the townsfolk congratulate themselves on a "win for the little guy" by driving off the "monster". And people continue on without treatment.

This story is very similar in so many ways. Many people want these folks to have help, but "not here". Often they say to those who are supporting such facilities "Would you want it next door to YOU?". And you know what? Yes, I would. Yes, I WOULD want a facility for these mentally ill, homeless folks or a methadone clinic or whatever next door to ME, because I would have an even greater chance to be of assistance to them on a daily basis. I'm sure for the most part things would be fine, and if there were one or two who did cause problems, heck, that is no different than what goes on in my neighborhood or ANY neighborhood WITHOUT these facilities.

Sadly, in recent weeks, as several fights against clinics have risen to a fever pitch in different areas of the country, the citizens themselves have decided to "take matters into their own hands" by doing things like leaving bags of dig feces on the clinic doorsteps, keying the cars of staff members, calling in threats to staff members, standing across the street and screaming insults and epithets to patients as they quietly came and went, and in one instance, setting up a website and then standing across the street to photograph patients as they came and went to treatment, placing all their photos on the website to humiliate them, in hopes they would leave treatment, forcing the clinic to close. This particular clinic has already been in this location for one year and has caused absolutely NO problems--a fact admitted by the protesters--but, they say, it "might", so they will continue with their protests.

This stuff is just so sad.

Sorry to have gotten a bit off track with the clinic stuff, but it's just so similar to this. All these folks need help, the help HAS TO go SOMEWHERE, and siting such facilities in the worst, most run down, crime ridden parts of town does not help them detach from that kind of environment. It's like forcing them to run a gauntlet every time they go for help.

"Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me"

(I tried several times to post this under my Google account but I could not seem to get it to accept that way so had to post under anonymous--I usually post under "Zenith15")

machine said...

George Carlon said it best;"Change the term 'homeless'to 'houseless'...A home is an abstract idea, what these people need is a place to live...4 walls and a roof."

What I don't get is why are people afraid of having a homeless shelter in their community...Whats worse having unstable people sleeping in allies and parks or a local housing facility that gets then off the street,and offers them the treatment AND monitoring they need.

Anonymous said...

Machine, though I see your point I'm not sure why everyone who is homeless would necessarily be "unstable", or need treatment or "monitoring". The assumption that all homeless people are mentally ill, or substance abusers, or pose a threat to society in some way is aberrant.

There are quite a few people that went from a life of relative comfort with a full time job, home, car, etc to being on the streets due to unexpected layoffs, several bad events in a row, health problems, etc. Not everyone has a ton of savings in the bank, or family members willing to house them temporarily so they can hang on to a vestige of their dignity, but that does not make them mentally ill, or addicted, or in need of careful "monitoring". Some do need this help, but we need to be careful not to infer that because some do, everyone does.

With the clinic patients I see the same thing--everyone assumes they are homeless, jobless, toothless wretches from under a bridge somewhere, when in fact we have lawyers, nurses, teachers, business owners, soccer moms, college students, etc.

Challenge your assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Ron stretcher should be fired for his baseless comments..There are plenty of people working to help folks in this situation..Doesn't help when idiots like ron stretcher throw everyone under the bus..

Anonymous said...

There are nowhere near enough services for this population. His comments were not baseless at all. He is trying to advocate for MORE and BETTER services for this population. Should someone doing that be fired? I think they should be praised to standing up and saying something. I think idiots like you who think things are fine the way they are should be fired. Try going somewhere like the Bridge in Dallas and see how little services are available for such a huge population and then try and tell me there are "plenty" of people working for this population. Try doing some research about how difficult it is to get people interested in working for underserved populations.