Coming Home - The Story of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) In three Chapters

DMH formally began its Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) initiative on October 31, 2008 with the goal assisting 177 consumers of state funded mental health services to transition into their own apartments. That day was the start of a promising new beginning for three extraordinary PSH pioneers, Rudee, Debra and Codey, each of whom is walking his or her personal path to recovery. You'll read about their respective stories below, but first a few words about PSH.

PSH would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of several key legislators who agressively pursued the economic means to assist consumers' move into affordable housing. Beyond that critical support, it also takes a team of dedicatd people and organizations to ensure that the transition is a seamless one. That team includes Catholic Charities, Inc., which serves as the PSH Subsidy Administrator for Cook and Lake counties; the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies (IACAA), which administers the PSH Transition Bank Cards; Thresholds, inc., which provides community mental health support services, and the Thresholds Peer Success staff. Lena Raimondo, Jerry Wiczek and Megan Mulkey.

From left to right: Rudee, Debra, Brenda Hampton-PSH Chief Administrator, and Codey

Rudee Takes a Step Up and Away

Rudee, a Chicago native in his late forties, was first admitted into a nursing home when he was twenty-six. Since that time, he has been in and out of numerous nursing homes from Chicago to Bourbonnais. During the past eight years, he has resided at Somerset House, a nursing facility on Chicago's north side.

Rudee's life journey has been marked by turbulence. Homelessness, gnawing hunger and sleep deprivation were closer to him than most family members. Estranged from his family, his loneliness was compounded by numerous psychiatric hospitalizations. He struggled to hold down jobs, but "things" continued to happen to him.

As one of five hundred and seventy-five other Somerset residents, Rudee shared his bedroom with three other men. But what he wanted most was "to have a quiet place, his own place, just to think." On his forty-ninth birthday, his dream became real when he was able to move into his own apartment thanks to the tenacity of Thresholds Peer Success and the DMH Permanent Supportive Housing initiative.

Rudee gratefully says that this opportunity gives him "hope." He sees his move as a fresh start on life and a crucial step up in his desire to find employment and renew his family ties. He is very aware that he "can't rush things", but he now has faith that everything will be all right. Even better, he has faith in himself.

A Desert Storm Vet Marches to a Better Life

Debra, a 1988 Martin Luther King High School graduate in Chicago, was convinced that higher education was her path to future success so she eagerly applied to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She matriculated there but laughingly confessed that she had "too much fun" her first year. To regain her focus, she enlisted as a solider in the United States Army. Her sister enlisted at the same time and, together, they became military buddies. Debra's specialized training and expertise took her to the battlegrounds of Desert Storm. She was honorably discharged in 1996 and relocated to Washington, DC.

After her baby was born, Debra became interested in joining the National Guard. Like  many other single-parent Guard enlistees, she was required to temporarily relinquish guardianship of her daughter. The paternal grandparents of Debra's daughter took the child for a "visit" to Alabama. She was never returned to her mom. That was over twelve years ago.

Debra began to spiral into a major depression. She came back to Chicago and lived with her sister for a brief period. That arrangement failed and she was hospitalized for depression. From there, Debra was directed to Somerset House, her home address since 1997 until October 31, 2008. On that day, Debra officially moved from Somerset to her new apartment under the PSH initiative. She enthusiastically acknowledges that this opportunity is the best thing that's happened to her. Her participation with Thresholds Peer Success has taught her how to cook for herself, budget and to once again become self-reliant. She has also been in contact with her daughter. Now that Debra has her own home, she is hopeful that her daughter will visit her after Thanksgiving. The new move leaves Debra excited, "It is so good to be out of the nursing home," she says.

There's more good news. Debra has an appointment with a medical specialist who will treat her for Huntington's, a disease that she first became aware of while serving her country in Desert Storm. When asked about her life's goals, she responds, "To finish school, be healthy and to see my daughter."

From Crisis to Calm

Codey hails from Streator, Illinois where he held several jobs as a desk clerk in small hotels. As he liked to say, the "hospitality industry" suited him. In August 2007, the hotel where he worked and lived closed its doors. Overnight, Codey went from comfort to crisis; he became homeless. Within four months, he was living, some would say merely existing, in a vacant building when he met Lena Raimondo of Thresholds Peer Success.

Codey acknowledges that it was Lena who kept on him to visit a psychiatrist. That was not an easy task as he was disoriented, unusually temperamental and experiencing both visual and auditory hallucinations. Codey readily confesses that although he had previously been told that he had behavioral problems, he never sought treatment. Yet these problems placed a serious strain on his relationship with his mother.

Codey was admitted to Illinois Masonic Hospital and then to the Margaret Manor Central Nursing Home. He prefers not to talk about his past. What Codey will say is that he wanted "freedom for his fortieth birthday" as a gift. He got his wish.

Thanks to the DMH Permanent Supportive Housing initiative, Codey is now in his own apartment. He aptly describes the move into his new home as being a "breath of fresh air."

The First Three

Rudee, Debra and Codey are the first three consumers to move into the Division PSH model, in their case, a separate furnished studio apartment, with a self-contained bathroom and kitchenette. With the support of the Thresholds Peer Success team, they used the Transition Bank Card provided them to purchase personal household items, such as linens, a small television, radio, clock, pots and pans and other necessary items.

Rudee, Debra and Codey are testaments to PSH's success. But success does not stop with them. As this initiative expands by including more mental health consumers, additional opportunities for individual recovery will increase correspondingly. Rudee calls it a quiet place. Debra says, that it is the best thing that has happened to her. Codey sees it as freedom. It is all of the above and more.