Mahoning housing study in the works
Aimed at those with mental illness
A Mahoning County housing study will result in a plan to overcome housing disparities for those with mental illness.
The study is being done by Tracy Plouck, former director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, for an estimated fee of $15,500. The Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board and the Terry Russell Housing Initiative are sharing the cost.
Plouck met with county leaders and providers earlier this month and said she will do so again next month.
“There is a desperate need for housing in Mahoning County — not just in Youngstown, but all of Mahoning County,” MHRB Director Duane Piccirilli said.
The housing study is expected to accomplish three things:
• Create a plan to create, modify or expand housing opportunities for those released from inpatient psychiatric facilities, who need more time to focus on recovery before moving on to longer-term housing in the community.
One example of this that the county could choose to implement is the Adam-Amanda House in Athens. It is a 16-bed facility that houses individuals for up to 50 days after leaving the regional state psychiatric hospital.
• Outline options and recommendations to establish additional permanent supportive housing for those living with a severe mental illness.
This will include options about recruiting a developer and using tax credits. Piccirilli said this is important, so that the burden of paying for this does not fall on the taxpayers.
• Create a business plan that can be used by community leaders and partners to advocate for additional affordable housing options for those who utilize the local mental health care system.
“What we’re really looking at is, where are the bottlenecks in the system where people are trying to access housing but can’t,” Plouck said.
Terry Russell retired as the director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio last June after being in the mental health business for 50 years. He said housing has been his passion, so the NAMI Ohio board set up the Terry Russell Housing Initiative to stay involved in that area.
He said it is important that this plan is actionable when it is completed. The study began March 1 and is expected to be completed by May 31. Russell said he doesn’t just want to talk about housing but wants to see programs be implemented.
“Housing is what I’ve felt for the last 35 years has been the greatest failure of the mental health system,” Russell said.
In the mid-1980s, six of the 12 state psychiatric hospitals were closed. Russell noted that the hospitals weren’t great, but they gave people some level of support. Now, there are more people who need the service than what can be provided, so individuals typically can stay for three to five days.
Russell said this is not enough time for people to properly put time in to work on themselves and get support, which is why supportive housing for people who are released from the state hospitals is so important. Of the people who are released, Russell said 30 percent of them are released to the streets.
“No other illness would this be allowed,” Russell said. “Would we let chemotherapy patients or those who had heart surgery to be released to the streets? No, but because of the stigma around mental health, it is allowed.”
Piccirilli said he does think that people in the local area end up in homeless shelters because they do not have supportive housing. Russell said many studies have shown that people with mental illness who have supportive housing are able to live better lives.
Piccirilli noted that housing would go where zoning allows permit, and MHRB would ensure it is placed in a welcoming community.
Once the plan is completed, Russell said it will be up to the MHRB and local leaders to implement it. He noted that there are a number of local, state and federal resources available to help put the plan in action.
Plouck said there are several entities in the county looking at other housing needs the county faces. By completing this study and enacting the subsequent plan, Plouck said the county will be addressing one specific housing need of several, but it will fit into a larger picture.
“I think if you don’t have a pipeline that is complete, you’re going to have transitional issues as people move from one type of housing to the next,” Plouck said.
MHRB already met with Russell, local leaders and local providers about the study. Russell said he is confident that things can get done in Mahoning County, because it is one of the most receptive groups with which he has worked.
“We’re not going to solve all the problems for people in Youngstown and Mahoning County who need this, but we will put pillows under some people’s heads,” Russell said.