Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

December 4, 2012

Forum: Supportive housing helps people stay sober

Recently, the Record-Eagle published stories about those who are homeless and the challenges we as a community face in trying to help people in this situation.

One answer to this challenge is Supportive Housing.

Supportive Housing is not a shelter. Supportive Housing is not Transitional Housing! Supportive Housing is permanent housing that is affordable to the tenant.

Supportive Housing is a nationally proven method of helping people face the complex challenges in their lives while being able to live in safe, affordable and permanent housing.

Since the mid-1990s, the Foundation for Mental Health has been quietly and consistently meeting this challenge by developing Supportive Housing for the population of homeless who have a disability. FMH serves approximately 80 people through their Supportive Housing Program.

On January 25, 2012, 906 people were counted as homeless in the five-county Grand Traverse area. Of that total, 333 people were living on the streets, in a shelter, or in transitional housing; 162 adults and 411 children and youth were counted as being "at risk" of homelessness.

County numbers were: 154 in Antrim; 57 in Benzie; 498 in Grand Traverse; 95 in Kalkaska; and 70 in Leelanau County.

Of this group: 81 were chronically homeless; 21 were military veterans; 53 were diagnosed with a mental illness; 76 reported severe substance abuse issues; and 143 reported they were victims of domestic violence.

Supportive Housing offers a person with these challenges a permanent place to live — an apartment or house of his/her own choosing. Because the tenant often finds the unit him/herself, the units are scattered throughout the five counties. This scattered-site housing helps tenants learn to live in neighborhoods, connect with community landlords, and develop "natural supports" in terms of neighbors, churches, and businesses.

The tenant pays 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities and the grant pays the balance. Tenants must pay their rent on time, take care of their unit, and not disturb their neighbors.

Support services are provided by FMH and by partners such as Community Mental Health, the Thomas Judd Care Center, the Women's Resource Center, Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency and Goodwill Industries. Services ranging from budgeting to helping people to keep medical appointments are offered.

Research shows that supportive housing helps people maintain employment, helps kids stay in school, and helps decrease the cost of hospitalizations, incarcerations, and shelter stays. Supportive housing also helps people stay sober and stay mentally healthy.

FMH is a 501(c)(3) and receives funding from the federal government in order to manage this Supportive Housing program. They count on other grants and personal donations to supplement this government funding, help pay utility costs that may be over and above the amount offered in the grant, and help pay for support services.

About the author: Henry Peet is a retired insurance agency owner and is the vice president of the Foundation for Mental Health Board of Directors.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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