Community Development, Supportive Housing

The Importance of Supportive Housing


Since the Reaching Home Campaign was initiated more than a decade ago, I have learned through experience that permanent supportive housing provides the stability that people with serious and persistent mental illness need to rebuild their lives, and become more independent and self-sufficient.  Providing tenants with apartments with flexible support services has been demonstrated to reduce hospital expenditures, and save taxpayer dollars. More important is the role housing plays in transforming lives. I have visited apartments and talked with persons who have reconnected with family and friends, enrolled in classes, and become engaged in employment and other activities that involve them in the community and build their self-esteem. Even more astounding is the fact that many of these tenants are people who were told they would never live anywhere except a hospital.

There is a trend of utilizing supportive housing as a primary discharge option for people who no longer need a hospital level of care. Instead of requiring that persons “earn” their independence by moving through different levels of supervised housing arrangements, the U.S. Department of Justice has encouraged states to make supportive housing the preferred option. Litigation in several states challenging the lack of timely community integration of persons with disabilities has resulted in settlements that mandate the development of supportive housing.

Connecticut initiated a pilot program to study this approach in 2009.  The purpose was to determine whether persons with serious mental illness could successfully transition from hospitals directly to independent supportive housing.  The report, released in August of 2012, answered that question in the affirmative. Housing was associated with significant improvements in client satisfaction, including family involvement and sense of choice and empowerment. It was also associated with reductions in problems with mental health functioning, and there was a substantial reduction in hospital stays, and no change in medication adherence or substance abuse, which might be expected with independent housing.

An increasing number of persons in recovery are now being discharged to supportive housing. This is a significant start toward true community integration.

Jan VanTassel, a lawyer, is executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project and founder and co-chairwoman of the Keep the Promise Coalition.

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