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?