Mentally ill get housing help in Merced

10/29/2013 7:40 PM

10/30/2013 10:49 AM

A housing community in Merced has opened its doors to people suffering from mental illnesses and those at risk of becoming homeless in Merced County, a project which has been extended to families for the first time.

Gateway Terrace, located between Fourth Street and Lesher Drive in Merced, has offered 10 of its 66 units to those who meet the requirements. The other apartments are rented to the public as affordable housing units.

Some of the requirements include earning 30percent or less of the area’s median income, a mental disorder diagnosis and functional impairments because of a mental illness.

Two other housing projects – Project Home Start in Merced and Project Hope Westside in Los Banos – offer similar support for individuals but not families, according to Maria Azevedo, Merced County mental health staff services analyst.

“It’s the first one where we have families that are able to gain housing,” Azevedo said. “It’s serving a unique and vulnerable population, because they are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.”

The total cost of the project was $13.4million, with $1.2million coming from Mental Health Services Act funding. Other funding sources included the city of Merced and the Merced County Department of Mental Health. The building took about four years to complete, according to county officials.

The complex includes a community center, and the county’s mental health department has an on-site counselor to provide services to clients. Azevedo said the 10 units are filled, but there is a waiting list.

Sharon Jones, Mental Health Services Act coordinator, said Gateway Terrace supports whole families while reducing the stigma for individuals living with mental illness by not isolating them from the community.

“In the past, we just put the person dealing with mental illness in a place, but oftentimes the illness might displace the whole family,” Jones said. “Our basic needs are food, clothing and shelter; so I think if someone doesn’t have the stability of housing, then everything else can’t come together.”

Mary Hofmann, past president of Merced’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, agreed that providing housing to those dealing with mental illnesses allows them to worry about one fewer thing while they focus on recovery.

“There’s a sense of independence,” Hofmann said, “and once you start building that, you can build on it to improve your prognosis.”

Hofmann said permanent housing is helpful, but having a transitional housing solution is even more critical.

“It’s really hard for people to go from being hospitalized to being independent; that’s a huge jump,” Hofmann said. “People don’t go from being inpatients to successful outpatients.”

Jones said the mental health department is holding workshops to get input from the public about what services they would like to see in the community.

The programs are funded through the Mental Health Services Act, which brings a total of about $9 million per year to Merced County.

“The plans were mostly done in 2006, so we’re going to take a look at where we were then and what needs to be added,” Jones said.

The next workshops will be held on Nov.8 and Nov.22 at 1137 B St., Merced. For more information, call Sharon Jones at (209)381-6800, ext. 3611.


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