Group homes for the mentally ill: pt.2

Medford, Ore. —  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.”

Vorderstrasse agrees.

“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.”

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