News Article Details

Government joins push for more decent housing

Pantagraph - 8/28/2018

Aug. 28--BLOOMINGTON -- Sue Spivey worries about what will happen to her son when she's no longer around to advocate for his mental health needs.

Will her son have a decent place to live with the services he needs to live a stable life, free from the frequent interactions with law enforcement that have marked his life for more than a decade?

Like many parents of adult children living with mental illness, the mother of 46-year-old Randy Reecer looks to the government and the community for help with her son's ongoing care.

The McLean County Board is ready to push the start button early next year on a housing program that will boost the number of supportive housing units in the Twin Cities. Spivey, 64, welcomes those efforts. "I worry about his future," said Spivey, who has a friend ready to assume her power of attorney for her son's affairs if she cannot care for him.

In December, Reecer moved to Phoenix Towers, a subsidized apartment complex in downtown Bloomington. It was his fourth move in four years.

McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson said the Frequent Users System Engagement (FUSE) will use existing housing providers, including Bloomington Housing Authority, to expand the number of units available for those with behavioral health issues. The county has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to consider issuing more vouchers for residents who need help paying their rent.

In its first year, the program will target about a dozen people. "We hope to recruit participants who are the most frequent utilizers of our criminal justice system," said Wasson, "and provide a framework to obtain services for them in a cost-effective manner."

The FUSE Project budget will be considered by the county board this fall. In addition to housing, the project includes mental and physical health care and employment assistance.

The $3 million cost will be helped, in part, from revenue from Twin City sales taxes allocated for improving community mental health services. The remainder will come from Medicaid and the Pay for Success program through the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Under FUSE, an initiative of the Corporation of Supportive Housing, savings realized through a reduction in emergency room and jail stays by mentally ill residents is invested in housing and services. After three years, the county expects to save $552,000, which will be reinvested in housing and services.

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The sales tax money allows McLean County "to resolve the government funding dilemma on how to pay for services," said Wasson. A study presented to the county's Behavioral Health Coordinating Council in March put the cost of emergency crisis care and jail stays at $60,000 per person annually.

McLean County needs to increase the number of supportive housing beds from 84 to 180, with a chronically homeless population of about 50 people among those with the highest needs, according to the county's 2015 Mental Health Action Plan.

"McLean County needs to ensure that housing is accessible to those with disabilities, chronically mentally ill, veterans and homeless populations needing continuous care," according to the study that led to the plan. The study ranked housing among the top five issues the community must address to improve mental health care.

Poverty, followed by mental illness, are the two most common denominators among frequent users of services.

Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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(c)2018 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

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