Housing must be a policy priority to aid those with mental illnesses

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Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru’s recent piece in the Post-Gazette discussed two congressional bills aimed at reforming mental health practices (“Mr. Murphy vs. Mental Illness,” May 16 Perspectives). A critical aspect of mental health care, and one of which is noticeably absent from both Mr. Ponnuru’s column and the federal legislation, is the need for housing for people with mental illness.

The Post-Gazette recently published an in-depth series by Joe Smydo about consumers discharged from Mayview State Hospital. An entire section of that series was titled “Need for Housing Challenges Mentally Ill.” The report highlighted that housing is as important as medications for people with a mental health disability and that long waiting lists for housing have created myriad problems for people in the community or who are being discharged from an institution.

Cuts in mental health housing budgets, increasing rents, housing discrimination, personal care homes existing on shoestring budgets or closing, and many nursing homes refusing to accept people who are the most severely mentally ill are the harsh day-to-day realities that many consumers and mental health providers face.

Mercy Behavioral Health, part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and CHE Trinity Health, in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy, has developed committees staffed with seasoned mental health professionals, attorneys and housing specialists who are developing creative solutions to housing. Housing needs to be a major policy priority if legislators expect to make a major impact on the negative outcomes of hospitalizations and prison time for individuals with severe mental illness.

We are asking for a forum to present and discuss the issue with legislators. New housing strategies need to be developed for our consumers so they can live in safe and affordable housing, which will have a significant, meaningful and lasting impact on recidivism.

Mercy Behavioral Health
Housing Committee
North Shore

The writer is an employee of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.

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