If Advocates Are Finding Creative Ways To Solve Homelessness: Why Are Public Programs Failing?

I always enjoy speaking in Pinehurst, North Carolina, because it is home to a fabulous National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter and one of my favorite advocates. Marianne Kernan invited me to speak at a fund raiser for Linden Lodge last weekend and also deliver a speech during a moving interfaith church service. Marianne spearheaded a NAMI Moore County campaign to build Linden Lodge when she was president of the chapter. NAMI bought a 1970’s rambler and turned it into a seven bedroom residential facility with a garden and a multi-use building for art, music therapy, physical fitness activities and peer support group meetings. Six residents live in the debt free house. The Linden Lodge Foundation accepts no state or federal money.

Because of draconian budget cuts in mental health and housing programs, persons with mental disorders are finding it almost impossible to find housing. Today’s edition of The Washington Post notes that there has been a 23 percent rise in homelessness in the newspaper’s circulation area since  recession began. The newspaper reported in an earlier story that persons with mental illness can wait up to 18 years to get into a housing program in affluent Fairfax County, Virginia, where I live.

Nationally, the continued closings of state hospital beds, shutting of public hospital beds, and the use of existing mental health beds for sex offenders, who are being involuntarily committed to mental health facilities after they complete their prison sentences, are making matters worse. New guidelines about how federal payments will be made to assisted living facilities are causing many of them to close.

Having a safe place to live is essential to helping people recover. Abraham Maslow figured that out in the 1940s.

Marianne and NAMI Moore County are not the first advocates who have created safe housing. In Fairfax County, Virginia, Trudy Harsh started the Brain Foundation after becoming frustrated with endless government committees where people talked and talked, but didn’t do anything that produced results. An accomplished realtor, Harsh used her knowledge to begin buying houses. (You can read her inspirational  story here.)

Trudy’s actions caught the eye of Ron and Lin Wilensky in Florida and they founded Dave’s House  – a similar housing program  for persons with severe mental disorders.  Now the Wilensky’s are planning  on opening  20 houses by 2020.

I admire Marianne Kernan, Trudy Harsh, and Ron and Lin Wilensky because they have put actions behind their words. These individuals are making a difference in their communities.

While I applaud them, I wonder:  if these dedicated individuals can find innovative and effective ways to provide housing to persons with mental problems, then why aren’t local, state, and federal agencies, whose mission is to end homelessness, doing a better job of helping our loved ones?

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Unfortunately I know all too well the affluent area’s in northern Virginia & the need for more homeless shelters but also the shelters rules & regulation need to be evaluated to make sure they are in compliance with State, Federal laws. Holly was a resident @ a homeless shelter in northern Virginia & had her own social worker who was aware of her PTSD,Paranoid Schizophrenia,Many 911 Reported suicide attempts, ect but Holly was still put out into the streets as her allotted time to stay was up & she would have to requalify for public assistance something Holly did not want to do fearful it would effect her 23 year career as a United Airlines flight attendant who was released by United medical to return to work giving her a 2nd return date of September 8 2010 So Holly asked could she please stay only 2 more nights as it was September 6 2010 & The answer she received was No. Holly was found deceased the day she was to return to work in The W&OD Regional Park between 6,6:30p.m. but had been 911 Reported as a suicide in progress by her preacher & authorities listed her a missing & endangered. Over 7 hours would elapse to locate her as she was less than .335 Of a mile from her cell phone carriers tower & she had set her phones gps location to E911 As she was crying out for help once again & was known by the local police dept. After she was 911 Reported @ 11:00a.m. almost 2 hours would elapse before authorities contacted her cell carrier who found her location by triangulation of the cell towers & officers went to Hollys provided location & left stating they didn’t see her & went the opposite direction of what her carrier had provided. The authorities called her carrier a 2nd time @ 4:00p.m. to see if her location had change & the carrier replied No. Authorities would Not return to the W&OD Regional Park of Sycolin rd. Behind the homeless shelter untill 6:00p.m. & her body was discovered. Deceased @ 51 so young, so much more to give, live. How did this happen as the area she died in has been voted #1 in all their advancement in Technology? Please prevent this senseless death of a beautiful human being from happening to another beautiful human being with mental illness who is reaching out, crying out for help not death. Holly’s death or the discovery of her body name witheld if preliminary cause of death list suicide, was never in the news & her employer was called to Identify her body I was told but her police report references numerous times she worked for an “unknown airline” but her United identification badge, United medical release letter & passport were found on her? She is finally at peace embraced in Gods safe arms as man, people whose job it is to protect & serve, provide medical treatment, counseling,therapy,ect Holly was doing it all as she wanted to be healthy,better,happy & go to work as she Lived to Fly! Another 911 Triggered or began the decline of her mental health as Holly was working inflight on September 11,2001 Coming home to Dulles her domicile but the flight was diverted back to Frankfurt when they learned of the hijackings of 3 of their planes & the American flight, Grieving the loss of their own all 4 of the flights that went down that day & their family,friends,loved ones. The airline family is a close knit family who have felt so much pain even to this day & their life & health affected forever.

  2. Terri Wasilenko says

    There are too many barriers and gaps in services that incumber our loved ones, making their deaths even more senseless. I am sorry for your loss but also thankful that you were able to share this with us (blog readers).
    Terri Wasilenko