As the impacts of the pandemic were just starting to be realized in March and April, NAMI Collier County was able to find encouraging success securing housing for homeless members with mental health issues.
Using an Emergency Solutions Grant from Collier County, which is funded by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, we were able to find housing for three people in 2018 and nine people in 2019. Since March, we have found housing for 12 people using a $30,000 grant matched by our own funds.
The grant allows NAMI Collier County to pay six months of rent for qualifying individuals, allowing them to find stability with program support. NAMI Collier works with each individual to develop a housing plan and improve the likelihood of long-term financial and mental health stability, while encouraging integration into the community. The homeless situation for many of our clients was made worse with the pandemic because we had to close our Sarah Ann Drop-In Center, where some of our homeless clients were able to get a hot meal, fresh clothing, friendship and continuous mental health support.
But Bower Thomas, our Supportive Housing Specialist, said the pandemic may have had the upside of finding suitable housing
more available, as the guarantee of six months of paid rent was beneficial to landlords. Thomas is a former accountant who started with NAMI Collier as a certified peer counselor after suffering his own mental health issues seven years ago that included being in and out of mental health institutions and a significant brush with the law.
In mid-April, he was tapped to help facilitate the housing program, working to establish relationships with landlords and reduce the perceived stigma of renting to people with mental health disabilities. “With the economy influx, it was opportune time to provide guaranteed rent,” Thomas said. “We also look to find the right people with openness in their hearts. I have been through the system and it gives me the ability to get things done locally and see our client’s situations more clearly. It’s in my Rolodex to benefit them, and it feels good.”
Two of the women we placed were victims of domestic violence and were temporarily living in a shelter. When their time at the
shelter was over, they had nowhere to live and few resources. Now they are safe, sharing a house together, and one of the women
recently got a job. Another client, a veteran with untreated PTSD who fell into substance abuse and lived on the street for five
months, is the third roommate in the house, helping the women feel secure.
One gentleman had lost everything due to a stroke and fell into extreme depression and PTSD. Now he is happily living in a guest
house where he can enjoy his landlord’s horses. Another veteran was staying at St. Matthews House, a temporary homeless shelter, and another was receiving treatment for substance abuse at The Willough at Naples. All are now off the street and finding some stability, with several finding jobs.
For many of our clients, these challenging times are making already difficult lives even more challenging. Imagine a “stay home,
stay safe” order without having a home to retreat to. For individuals with a mental health diagnosis, finding secure housing is so much more than a roof over their heads, it not only provides safety but also increases mental well-being, physical health, independence in society and reduces recidivism/arrests and acute care/emergency department visits, a service that we are honored to provide.
Pamela Baker has been CEO of NAMI Collier County since March 2015. The mission of the NAMI Collier County is to provide advocacy, education, public awareness and support so that all individuals and families affected by mental illnesses can improve the quality of their lives. Learn more about programs and how you can help at www.namicollier.org.