The Crisis Housing Fund passed a mile-stone in August, when the Minnesota Housing Partnership’s nine-year-old fund dispersed more than $2 million to help people with mental illness retain their housing. The fund not only keeps people from becoming homeless, it also saves Minnesotans money because state hospitals are not forced to keep patients who have no home to which to return.
“In this time of dwindling resources, it’s a lifesaver,” said Ruth McVay, Hennepin County Behavioral Health Case Manager. McVay applies for Crisis Housing Funds for three to five patients per year. Without the fund, patients would likely lose their housing if they entered inpatient treatment.
Since 1995, housing funds have helped nearly 3,000 people with a mental illness throughout the state. During 2003, the fund served 375 clients, 57 percent of whom lived in the seven county metro area. The average grant is $628. Clients who receive Crisis Housing Funds have low incomes, serious and persistent mental illness and risk losing their housing if they enter inpatient treatment. While in treatment, their income goes toward treatment rather than to pay housing costs. The housing fund covers rent or mortgage and utility costs for up to 90 days. The Crisis Housing Fund is a unique service not found in other parts of the country, said Dave Schultz, Minnesota Department of Human Services Mental Health Program Consultant.
“For many people, it’s their biggest source of pride and identity that they have their own place,” McVay said. “The Crisis Housing Fund provides incentive, hope and a sense of stability so they can take the time to heal.” Retaining their home provides patients motivation to restore their health and return home, she said.”My clients are much more able to focus on their treatment and get out of the hospital sooner,” said Colleen Johnson, Lincoln, Lyon and Murray Counties Human Services social worker.
Clients who lose their home face larger ramifications than the immediate crisis of homelessness. Eviction or vacating an apartment with no notice establishes a poor rental history, making future landlords less likely to rent an apartment to people with mental illness. Clients also risk losing their deposits and paying a penalty for breaking a lease, limiting their resources to pay a damage deposit and first month’s rent for a new apartment.
Having this program in place has also been effective in reducing hospital; lengths of stays thereby freeing up inpatient psychiatric bed capacity, Schultz said. Clients who lose their housing fall back into the system, Johnson said. They are often forced to turn to transitional housing facilities and spend months trying to find a new home. Those with a Section 8 voucher or public housing lose it and are thrust to the bottom of the waiting list, she said. “Sometimes people don’t want to go through all of that and do become institutionalized,” Johnson said. Mental health advocates, who saw their members struggling to maintain stability and their housing while obtaining treatment, initiated the legislation for the Crisis Housing Fund. “When a person with a mental illness required inpatient treatment beyond 30 days, they would risk losing their housing,” Schultz said.
In 1994 the legislature allocated funding for the program. The Minnesota Department of Human Services contracts with the Minnesota Housing Partnership to provide the service. The housing partnership has been the ideal administrator because the organization can cut a check within a day for patients who are about to lose their homes.
“The Crisis Housing Fund is critical because once people with mental illness return to their baseline, they don’t have to suffer quite as many setbacks to resume their daily lives,” McVay said.