2022 California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA) Conference

The Correlation Between Housing and Recovery – How Independent Living Can Pave the Road to Recovery

If a person with a mental illness is striving to better him or herself, is aiming to reduce symptoms and lessen the impact of his or her illness, where do you think such recovery would best take place? Do you think safe and secure housing has an effect on the path a person takes in life? Adequate housing can and does provide a better plan for someone in recovery. It becomes not just a place to live but a place for clients to work on achieving life goals.

Housing is probably one of the most important factors that help a client fully immerse and integrate into society. It also reduces stigma because the client is not set apart and removed from the community. What we at JBFCS’ Brooklyn Treatment Apartment Program have found is that given the opportunity to lead a more independent life, most people will grab at the chance. When asked about housing in New York City, John Stern, a resident in one of our apartments, stressed that “housing in New York City is very tight for poor people.” And if you think about it, people living with mental illness rank high among the city’s poor. Having a place to call home is integral to the success of a person’s recovery.

The apartment programs at JBFCS come in various forms. There are supportive treatment programs that cater to residents transitioning from an institutional setting. Here, residents are introduced to a home-like environment where Case Assistants assist the residents in learning basic living skills and help them develop recovery goals—goals that clients might never have even thought about if they hadn’t been given an opportunity for safe housing. Then there are supported apartments that offer subsidized housing to adults living with mental illness who are able to live independently. These residents manage their own finances and run their own households. Case Assistants are available on an as-needed basis and through bimonthly apartment visits.

Clients with mental illness know they cannot attain life goals without having a roof over their heads first. They also know that having housing greatly reduces their chances of returning to the system that provoked their mental illness in the first place. Dorian King, a resident in JBFCS’ Brooklyn Graduate Apartment Program, spoke about his experience in the program at a resident dinner held on September 22, 2011. “Having my own room is not just housing; it is rehabilitation, which is a major part of my psychiatric recovery.” If we look more deeply into this statement, we can see and begin to understand its deeper meanings. What does it mean to have a place you can call your own? Think about it. Where would you feel better—in a place where you decide what you want for dinner and what to watch on TV or in place where those decisions are made for you? If you are a capable adult on the road to recovery, striking out on your own is a positive step, something that says, “I am somebody. I can do and I can improve.” Clients are able to function better when they feel safe, secure, and supported. They are better able to focus on the next stage in their lives.

Some statistics from our housing programs back up this idea of independent living paving the road to recovery. One in four Americans will experience a mental health disorder, yet with appropriate medication and a wide range of services, including housing, most people who live with serious mental illness can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. What’s more, 50 percent of JBFCS apartment program residents are involved in meaningful community activities, including employment and volunteer work, and 20 percent of our residents have obtained college degrees. Research shows that there is a correlation between housing and mental illness—housing reduces the rate of recidivism hospitals and the legal system.

Housing not only improves the quality of life for individuals with mental illness, but it is also likely to make the individual better able to manage his or her mental illness. Housing for the mentally ill empowers them and gives them hope, resulting in a sense of pride and belonging. These are all factors that promote, foster, and maintain stability. Living independently—and that can mean on one’s own or with roommates—makes a person responsible. Although help is certainly available, there are basic expectations of the residents as well. If you are managing cooking breakfast or dinner for yourself and your roommates every day, then you are looking after yourself and boosting your self-confidence. If you can do that, then perhaps you can take control of other goals you wish achieve. Having adequate housing implies some sense of self-reliance. That puts a positive spin on a person’s life outlook. If I can do this, then surely, I can do that as well. The road to recovery just got a little smoother.

Housing for these individuals allows them to live “normal lives,” where they are not seen as “individuals with mental illness” but rather as people, fellow citizens, people with rights, and responsible individuals in society.

Housing for the mentally ill empowers individuals, giving them hope, a sense of pride, and a feeling of belonging. These are all factors that promote, foster, and maintain stability for adults living with mental illness and working toward recovery.

For more information about housing programs at JBFCS, please contact Theresa Manuel at 718-859-9760 or by email to tmanuel@jbfcs.org.

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