Mental health patients find hope in new housing

(KGO)
May 10, 2012 5:20:23 PM PDT
Opening the doors of a new apartment complex isn't unusual, but for more than a dozen people struggling with mental health issues in San Mateo County, a new building could be life-changing.

"Oh my," Bridgette Ohms said while touring the facility. It's been a long road home for Ohms and many of the detours have been painful. "After having children and... many, many drugs of choice, I went to prison," she said. She spent a total 16 years behind bars and she says the wounds, including the self-inflicted, left her homeless and ultimately, diagnosed with mental illness. "I have poly-substance abuse which means many drugs and I have bipolar and PTSD."

But now, 14 mental health patients including Ohms are preparing to move in to the Cedar Street Apartments. It's a newly-built supportive housing facility in Redwood City where residents will receive on-site services from counseling to medication management. Psychologist Maria Lorente says she's already seen this model turns lives around. "I think it's a unique environment that's completely comprehensive to really help people get on their feet and stay on their feet," she said.

The $5 million for construction costs were cobbled together from 13 different funding sources, but experts say housing patients with mental health issues is actually more cost-effective than having them cycle through the system. "The people that will be living here are people who struggle with repeat emergency room visits, hospitalizations, very, very costly care that wouldn't be necessary if they had stable affordable housing. So, in the end of the day, what we find is that these investments pay off in spades," says Louise Rogers, deputy chief of the San Mateo County Health Department.

Residents are required to pay 30 percent of their income for the furnished studio apartments. For Ohms, that comes out of a disability check. She sees the unit as her last best chance to finally live a normal life. "I see a future. This is my last opportunity to have a future, the first time I'll have a home. I mean you can have a house, but this is a home," she said.

In addition to onsite counseling, residents will also have access to a registered nurse and an occupational therapist as well as onsite activities hosted in the community room.

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