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On June 18 Housing Options for the Mentally-Ill in Evanston, a non-profit agency that provides supportive residential and non-residential services to people recovering from chronic mental illness, celebrated the opening of its sixth building, Rose House. Providing permanent affordable housing for 18 people, the house marks the successful collaboration of the agency, private philanthropists and the state.
Housing Options acquired the property with a $1 million donation from Ed Fortino and Dayle Duchossois-Fortino. General fund contributors since the early 1990s, the couple decided four years ago to embark on a bigger project with the agency. Rose House, which is double the size of Housing Options’ next largest building, is named in memory of Mr. Fortino’s sister. Founding board member Claire McCarthy Peterson helped them develop a plan to establish the agency’s sixth building using the supportive housing model.
Housing Options selects buildings with a small public footprint and keeps them well-maintained, says Ms. Peterson. Rose House has a small façade and stretches back from the street with discreet entrances to the apartments along the side.
Each of the nine living units has two bedrooms and the residents live with roommates. A common room with a large kitchen area is shared by all of the residents. The extensive renovations were funded by $838,000 in long-term, interest-free loans and tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Illinois State Representative Julie Hamos applauded the joint financial effort, saying at the ceremony “the recovery model is what [Housing Options] is all about, and that takes a private and public partnership.” Mayor Lorraine Morton praised this “community of giving,” adding that she has attended each building inauguration since Housing Options’ first in 1992 and has not “heard one word of criticism” from the buildings’ neighbors.
As for Housing Options’ future, Ms. Peterson said “growth doesn’t just mean more housing.” Having more residents makes it possible to offer more services and activities to them. Housing Options coordinates communal activities such as Tai Chai, painting classes, cooking workshops and job-training sessions. Residents of Rose House organize bi-weekly dinner parties and set up a café in the community room where they serve coffee to other residents for small tips. Many Housing Options residents have full-time or part-time jobs, and in the evenings some take group trips to the movies and concerts. All of them work with a case manager and support staff to develop a plan leading toward more independent living.
The emotional high point of the celebration came when one of the residents of Rose House took the podium. She described what a relief Housing Options has been to her after living in other state institutions, and concluded by saying “Rose House has given me the opportunity for my own personal growth and has given me back my dignity.”