Housing Initiatives is a leader in providing hope, homes, and healing to people who are homeless because of mental illness. In the last 20 years, Housing Initiatives has brought over 600 people in off the streets.
Rayshun is a single father of three who, like so many in our community, has struggled with mental illness. Without proper medical care to deal with his paranoia and depression, Rayshun found it difficult to hold a steady job. And without a job, he and his kids found themselves in a cycle of homelessness. Rayshun says, “Being homeless was one of the worst experiences. I was in and out of hospitals for my illness, and we lived out of cars and shelters for 18 months.”
Being the strong, single parent he is, Rayshun stepped up for his children. He can now proudly say finding a home has turned his life around. “My stable home has made a big difference for us. My kids are doing better in school. My oldest daughter is achieving a 4.0 GPA.” Having a permanent home and support services enabled Rayshun to begin a process of recovery. A process where he has learned how to better manage his mental illness and begin working with Chrysalis to seek employment.
In Madison today, there are 3,000 homeless neighbors on the streets. Over one-third have been diagnosed with a mental illness and have become homeless because of it, while most of the remaining two-thirds are thought to be undiagnosed. Many describe their experience as being lost in a dark tunnel that they can’t find their way out of.
Combating homelessness and mental illness together can become a never-ending, vicious cycle from which people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self-care, caring for a child, and holding a job, become nearly impossible. Mental illness may also prevent people from forming and maintaining stable relationships, causing paranoia, irrational behavior, and misinterpreting guidance from others. Too often, this inadvertently results in pushing away family, friends, and even professionals who may be the force keeping that person from becoming homeless.
This is one of the many reasons why Housing Initiatives believes offering permanent housing is only the first step. We build trust and a relationship with each individual client to address their unique needs, and help them find a path to a more peaceful life. Providing housing alone will not keep our neighbors off the streets and help them find stable, permanent housing unless they have access to continuous treatment and services.
As of this writing in 2017, Housing Initiatives staff and partners have provided 408 hours of stabilization services, such as counseling, substance-abuse programs, transportation to doctor appointments, veteran support groups, and others. This support is what keeps clients from falling back into homelessness. Because of their unique expertise in providing permanent housing and support services year after year, 95 percent of clients never return to homelessness and lead happier, healthier lives.
Despite these promising numbers, the homeless population continues to climb. So, too, does the need for supportive services and housing. In the last year alone, Housing Initiatives has housed 242 individuals from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, including to:
• 214 adults
• 27 children
• 153 males
• 83 females
• 5 transgendered
• 79 African-American
• 13 Hispanic/Latino
• 55 veterans
As of September 2017, Housing Initiatives has added 15 units of apartment housing for the year. That’s compared to 18 in 2016 and 20 in 2015. Housing Initiative properties are located within the heart of many Madison neighborhoods. These properties act as anchors, spurring waves of new development in vulnerable neighborhoods.
This approach to housing puts clients back where they can find value and purpose. Housing Initiatives intentionally purchases foreclosed or devastated properties then renovates them, creating additional new development and safe, affordable housing options in some of Madison’s most challenged neighborhoods.
Again, it doesn’t just end with placing our homeless brothers and sisters in housing. Supportive services are what build trust and keep neighbors from becoming homeless again. To ensure that doesn’t happen, Housing Initiatives developed a Landlord Relations Program that provides support to landlords willing to rent to homeless clients with unique needs.
New, affordable housing ended homelessness for 82 more individuals this year, which included families and veterans. This important progress would not have been possible without the support of the Madison community and other transformative organizations helping combat homelessness and mental illness. With continued generosity, Housing Initiatives can provide neighbors struggling with mental illness hope, healing, and a home: basic needs that we all deserve.
To learn more about Housing Initiatives, visit the website or follow us on Facebook to see the progress.
Dean Loumos is the executive director of Housing Initiatives.
Photographs provided by Housing Initiatives.
1110 Ruskin Street
Madison, WI 53704