In the 14 months since a Community Mental Health Center apartment building was officially dedicated Sept. 18, 2012, at 16 N. Depot St., Batesville, it has proved vital in turning young lives around.
Each floor of the two-story structure contains six apartments and a laundry room. Two apartments on the ground floor are handicap accessible.
Of the 12 one-bedroom apartments, five are occupied by Transition to Independence Process clients, who must be between 18-25 and receive rental assistance through the Shelter-Plus Care program. Of those five, two are from Batesville and one from elsewhere in Ripley County. The other two used to live in CMHC’s service area, which also includes Franklin, Dearborn, Decatur, Ohio and Switzerland counties, reports TIP program manager Laura Harmon Nov. 19.
Four of the apartments are occupied by adult clients and three are open.
Since opening, 19 have stayed at the apartments for varying times. Seven have moved into other housing and there have been six evictions.
“This has to be a safe environment for recovery,” the manager stressed. The three building rules: no violence; no drugs or alcohol; and a new one – no sex. She explains, “Many have sexual trauma in their history.”
The ones ordered to leave “were breaking some rules. Some were having overnight guests, which is not allowed.”
The TIP program, part of the Division of Intensive Family Services, serves youth and young adults 16-25, although they must be 18 to live in the apartments. The youngest clients tend to be fostered and must learn skills before they are 18 and no longer eligible for foster care.
She points out, “All of the clients we work with have to have a mental health diagnosis.” Illnesses range from depression and bipolar disorder to anxiety issues and post-traumatic stress disorder from experiencing chronic long-term trauma, which could be from physical, sexual or emotional abuse or witnessing domestic violence.
“These are consumers who have not had an easy row to hoe .... The way we try to look at it from our agency perspective: We assume that everyone has experienced trauma,” perhaps abandonment or being bullied.
None are violent, according to her. When asked if any have substance abuse problems, Harmon answers, “Not currently.”
“A lot of what we do is working with them on what we call illness management and recovery. We help them understand what their diagnosis is, what their symptoms are and the treatment of that particular illness. How does that manifest itself when they’re at a job, in school or out in the community?” For instance, some persons with bipolar disorder “struggle with being able to sleep at night,” find it difficult to go to a job and perhaps spend money compulsively. Employees work with them on “what strategies can they use to make better choices?”
Consumers also learn independent living skills – budgeting, cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, organization, accessing community resources and interpersonal skills.
Most have very specific goals, such as “to develop and maintain a budget” or “my apartment will be sanitary and clean once a week when it’s checked” or making sure there is enough food. Several need to learn “what friendship is and how to make long-term mutually satisfying relationships.” Others who have a lot of anxiety will be coached on how to feel more confident when they’re interacting with people out in the community, “For some people it’s about nutrition and health.” Workers help them realize “there are other choices besides going to McDonald’s fives times a week.”
Parenting skills have been taught to the “multiple residents who have young children, infants and toddlers,” who also have lived at the apartments.
On Nov. 26 consumers fixed a Thanksgiving meal with staff supervision. “This might be the first time they’ve ever cooked a turkey.” About a month ago, a speaker came to the apartments. On that night, some of the residents prepared pizzas. “While it would have been easier to order out or bake frozen,” homemade was more affordable on their incomes. “That’s when we know we’ve done our job.”
A few may go home for the holidays. “All the residents we have currently have connections with their families” and some visit back and forth. “That’s something that we really try to promote …. We think that’s really important. Our consumers don’t come here with nothing. They bring with them a history and culture.”
Some clients already have jobs in food service and customer service. Others have punched time cards at Kroger and Batesville Tool & Die.
Are apartment consumers supervised? Harmon answers, “There are not staff on the premises 24 hours a day, but there are staff available.” Some are close, at a CMHC facility across the street at 15 N. Depot St., and can monitor what’s going on in the apartments with the help of six security cameras.
Harmon emphasizes that the building is not permanent housing. She expects most young men and women to stay six months to a year while they get on their feet.
This program is needed because “it prevents homelessness,” she maintains. One criteria to be placed in an apartment is to be homeless. “One of our residents was living in a tent before he came.” Others have arrived from Aurora’s Heart House homeless shelter and the Batesville-based Safe Passage domestic violence shelter. The federal definition of homelessness excludes “couch surfing,” staying with a friend or relative for a few days, then finding another situation.
Basic human needs must be met before mental health issues can be addressed. “If we find stable housing (such as the apartments), they are able to move on to achieve other things. They aren’t trying to just make it through the day.”
With TIP since July, Harmon reflects, “One of the things I’ve enjoyed over the past few months is really getting the clients more engaged and enthusiastic.” One achievement was naming the building. “Finally they called it The Brick, which I love. The brick is the foundation, the beginning. It’s strong, it’s something to build on, something to build with. I love the fact the residents came up with that name.”
After all, they are building their futures, with a lot of expertise from Community Mental Health Center employees.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
13 employees support CMHC consumers • Many TIP team members work at Batesville and Lawrenceburg facilities. In addition to Harmon, there are three facilitators, Charissa Taylor, Nathan Striegler and Sarah Wickman; staff therapist Amanda Sheeley, who performs assessments; one entitlements and housing specialist, Karen Addison; two vocational and educational services specialists, Tinna Townsend and Patty Hensley, who help consumers complete resumes and interest inventories, fill out applications and practice mock interviews; Finding Improvement by Reaching Empowerment (FIRE) team leader Sommer Cooke, who is also a staff therapist; and four FIRE peer engagement specialists, Heather Ryan, Cody Brothers, Cecil Lee and Brogan Kimmons, who organize evening social and educational events. • A Batesville advisory committee was formed to educate and address worries about local CMHC facilities. The next quarterly meeting, open to everyone, is Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Batesville library annex.