Thousands of Southern Oregon residents are dealing with some sort of mental illness and thanks to the state, county, and private companies, many of them live together possibly in your neighborhood. These group homes are all over and you aren’t being told about their locations because frankly, the organizations behind them aren’t required to tell you.
It’s Jackson County Mental Health’s goal to offer a normal community living experience for those who suffer from mental illness. In some cases that means placing people with mental disorders in your neighborhood. It’s part of an effort to help folks who need extra care experience the regular day to day life we all enjoy, but for some residents in Rogue Valley neighborhoods it has sparked concern.
“It’s been a nightmare for the last five years for the most part,” this woman lives next door to a group home for people with mental illness in east Medford a few blocks from North Medford High School. She asked that we hide her identity because she says she’s scared.
“Had a lot of issues for the past five years.”
The residents next door are all clients of a company that helps with the everyday needs of those with mental disorders including housing.
“We can’t have our windows open in nice weather,” she says. “Most of the screaming and bellering and carrying on is at night time so you don’t have peaceful night time sleep.”
While her concern is mostly about the disruption and fights she says she’s witnessed next door, she’s also bothered that she wasn’t told who was moving in next door beforehand. Medford police echo the same concern saying they have no idea where these group homes for the mentally ill are until they’re needed.
“Unfortunately that information is just not out there,” says Lt. Mike Budreau. “We don’t become involved unless one of those individuals leaves and then it’s up to us to try and find them.”
That’s exactly what happened in August when a group home resident walked away from a Medford facility and skipped town.
“We don’t want to persecute or embarrass the person involved here, but we feel there is a big public safety issue,” says Budreau.
Although the group home client had no criminal history, the nature of his mental illness and his sexual attraction to under-aged girls meant police had to get involved to help find him.
“Again it is about public safety. That’s our business,” Budreau explains.
Group homes, whether they’re run by county, state, or private companies can be located anywhere in residential areas and neither police or neighbors need to be told.
“We work with about 3,000 individuals a year that have mental health issues and there are certainly a proportion of those that need assistance with housing,” says Rick Rawlins with Jackson County Mental Health.
He says right now the county offers 20 foster homes able to serve a total of 93 people.
“We are still working to be able to meet the needs of the community in order to have enough resources.”
According to Jackson County Mental Health, from 2013 to 2014 “the demand for adult mental health services increased by 24%.”
“We hope to be able to support them wherever they are at on their path back to recovery,” Rawlins says.
And while that’s done by beefing up local resources, they’re also trying to shed a compassionate light on something that is often misunderstood.
“It impacts people of any race, economic status.” explains Rawlins. “Mental illness can effect any of us at any point of our life.”
NBC5 News, Nov. 3, 2015
With about a 1% vacancy rate for rentals, finding housing in Jackson County is tricky for everyone right now, but for those dealing with mental illness, it can be especially difficult. That’s just one of the many struggles that Compass House and Partnerships in Community Living deal with every day.
“When we talk about a clubhouse, we talk about a community. That’s what we are” says Matt Vorderstrasse, the executive director of Compass House in Medford.
“Everybody has three basic needs of being loved, needed, and wanted and that is what the clubhouse is here to provide,” he adds.
They opened their doors in August of 2014 and are based on a successful model of psycho-social rehabilitation.
Vorderstrasse says “We exist to provide purposeful opportunities to help advance the well being of the individual and the well being of the community.”
A simple and straight forward mission, with life changing effects.
“Allowing members the opportunity to use their skills and talents to not only help the clubhouse keep growing and thriving, but also to help members move forward in their lives,” he adds.
Here members come to socialize, help with tasks in the office, and share meals with the focus being non-clinical.
“A place where members are genuinely wanted and accepted for who they are,” explains Vorderstrasse.
And maybe, if only for for a moment they’re able to forget their struggles, but even in a relaxed, come-as-you-are environment like this one, hardships do come up.
“Housing is a huge issue for all of us,” says Joanne Fuhrman of Partnerships in Community Living or PCL in Grant Pass.
PCL offers services ranging from behavioral to employment for people living with mental disorders.
As Fuhrman explains, “it’s our job is really to help people find what makes them happy.”
And according to her, finding suitable housing can be especially challenging with a mental illness. That is partially
because of affordability, but also for other reasons.
“While housing laws say you cant discriminate, I think people still experience a little bit of that.”
“Landlords are able to choose applicants that present the least amount of risk, which often times unfortunately are not individuals that are living with mental illness.”
The state has recognized the housing challenge and is set to offer 20 million dollars to be shared among housing efforts for the mentally ill and substance abusers.
“It makes it feel like the state is actually paying attention,” says Vorderstrasse. “The state realizes this is a state wide issue.”
PCL owns eight homes in Oregon to be used specifically for people dealing with mental illness. However, none of those are in Southern Oregon. Instead locally they help clients find welcoming places to rent and often employ staff to live along with them. This set up often means clients live together, but Fuhrman shies away from the term group housing.
“When we talk about a group, people think about sort of people being isolated and not being parts of their community,” says Fuhrman. “They live in homes like the rest of us and sometimes, with other people.”
It’s a stigma she wants to help shake.
“We always want to put people in little boxes. I think its about getting to know people for who they are.”
NBC5 News, Nov. 4, 2015
Rhyan Baines knows housing hardships all too well. Suffering from a disease that has impacted his mental health, he’s had to seek housing help for years. But now in a new apartment, Rhyan’s also got a new attitude.
“Here it is, my room. Here’s my bed. We made the whole thing out of pallets,” says Baines, as he shows off his do-it-yourself projects in his apartment.
It’s the first time he has been proud of where he has called home and while his Grants Pass apartment is small and simple, for Baines its been a big step in the right direction, both for his living situation and his outlook.
“Pretty happy,” says Baines.
Since childhood, baines has suffered from tumors. “They did a biopsy but they couldn’t remove it,” he explains.
While the tumors did shrink from treatment, he says their location has impaired his mental ability.
“There is one behind my eye and one in my head,” says Baines.
Since he was eighteen years old, Baines has sought the help of adult foster homes for extra living assistance., but it wasn’t always a good experience.
“All the time I was acting up and I would always get in trouble. They would call the cops on me and I would get taken away, because they couldn’t keep control of me. Then I came to PCL.”
The staff at Partnerships in Community Living First met Baines about six years ago.
“When I first came to PCL, I was physical a lot,” Baines admits.
Requiring specific attention meant he had to live with other PCL clients in one of their group residences, but with time and support Baines found his way.
“Rhyan did the work, but he had people helping him along the way,” says Joanne Fuhrman of PCL.
“They helped me a lot because they taught me to be a nice and responsible person,” Baines says. “Yeah I’m a different guy now.”
In his new apartment without roommates, Baines still has one PCL staff member with him 24-hours a day, but it’s still the most independent he’s ever been and that’s spilling over to other parts of his life.
“I have a job now. It’s very exciting yeah.”
Besides pride in his accomplishments, PCL has also helped give Baines something to look forward to as he reaches towards his goal which is to, “Live completely on my own,” Baines explains.
Until then though, it’s easy to tell just how at home Baines finally feels.
PCL staff that have worked with Baines over the years say it’s been incredible to witness his transformation.
For more information on mental illness, group homes, and local resources, check out the links below.
Partnerships in Community Living: http://pclpartnership.org/
Jackson County Mental Health: http://jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/Mental-Health
Jackson County Mental Health Crisis Hotline: 541-774-8201
Compass House, Medford: http://www.socompasshouse.org/
Oregon Health Authority: http://www.oregon.gov/oha/amh/pages/index.aspx