For nearly 30 years Housing Options, a non-profit organization in Evanston, has provided housing and other supportive services for adults with serious mental illness. On June 1 of this year, the agency changed its name to Impact Behavioral Health Partners (“Impact”) to better reflect the expanded scope of its mission and new strategic plan.  

Impact’s Executive Director, Mary Ellen Poole, told the RoundTable that the agency has reshaped its roadmap to serve more people and to serve them beyond the boundaries of Evanston.  

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is estimated that at any given time 25% of the population in the United States is experiencing some form of mental illness.  Three to five percent of adults – approximately five to 10 million – cope with a serious and debilitating mental illness, and without treatment they are at risk of unemployment, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, incarceration, and suicide.  Treatment for mental illness includes helping people with wrap-around services that address a multitude of issues and that assists them to recover, live independently, and lead productive lives. Experts agree that stable housing is key to recovery.

Eric Lindstrom, Impact’s Chief Operating Officer, says that stable housing has long been the “center pin” of Impact’s focus. “A sizable percentage of the chronically homeless population are people experiencing mental illness, and Impact’s approach to treatment is to try to get each client into supported housing,” said Mr. Lindstrom.  “We believe in a zero-barriers policy in terms of housing. That means we work to connect clients to permanent housing, without conditions. We don’t exclude people if they have substance abuse issues or if they have a poor rental history or if they have been incarcerated. We subscribe to a ‘Housing First’ policy.”  

The Housing First model that Impact employs is a triage approach to providing supportive services to people who are chronically homeless and have higher service needs, such as managing a mental illness. Housing First is supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because HUD found this model of intervention improves mental and physical health outcomes and long-term housing stability with less costly crisis services required.  

According to HUD’s description of the Housing First model, housing admission policies “are designed to screen-in rather than screen-out applicants with the greatest barriers to housing,” including having little or no income, having past evictions or criminal histories. Supportive services are advised and offered to clients who have been placed in housing; however, tenants are not required to accept services as terms of their tenancy. Tenants have, like all tenants, some legal obligations, but HUD articulates that the goal of Housing First is to “achieve long-term housing stability in permanent housing.”

Impact’s capacity to provide affordable stable housing has expanded significantly since the agency purchased its first apartment building in the early 1990s. It currently owns six apartment buildings and leases other apartment units scattered throughout Evanston for its program.

Last year Impact provided affordable housing for 65 low-income people, many of whom were chronically homeless and have a chronic mental illness. Under its strategic plan, Impact plans to increase that number to 125 within the next three years, primarily by expanding beyond Evanston.  

Mr. Lindstrom said that in the past, people having serious mental illnesses were often housed in institutions. In 1988, however, the federal Civil Rights Act was amended to prohibit housing discrimination against people with a disability, including a mental illness. The amendments paved the way for people with a mental illness who had previously lived in institutions to live in a residential setting.

In 2010, the State of Illinois entered into the historic Williams Colbert Consent Decree, which expands on the rights provided under the Civil Rights Amendments Act of 1988. Under the Consent Decree, people with a mental illness may move from nursing homes or other institutional settings into the least restrictive community-based housing and have person-centered supportive services.  

According to Emily Young, Impact’s Development and Communications Coordinator, 100% of Impact’s clients receive clinical services from one of the agency’s licensed  professional mental health clinical team members. The services are personalized based on individual goals and include counseling, community-based support, medication training, and pyschiatric services.  

In addition to providing housing support, Impact assists clients to use the skills and experience they already have to find competitive employment and to remain employed.  The agency uses the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model to guide its efforts. Last year, Impact served 92 participants, and it plans to increase the program to serve 199 participants in three years.
    
The IPS model is an evidence-based approach developed by a psychiatrist and a veteran vocational rehabilitation counselor who ultimately founded the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center. The research provides a roadmap to use in assisting people with a serious mental illness to find employment.

IPS, according to Mr. Lindstrom, starts with the understanding that people having mental illness can be successful in the open job market and should not be limited to sheltered work settings.  

“Competitive employment placement is our goal, and we embrace zero exclusions,” said Mr. Lindstrom. “If clients want to work, they are eligible.”  

Other fundamental aspects of IPS that are part of Impact’s approach include these tenets: clients’ job preferences are honored; clinical services and benefits counseling are available and encouraged; the agency works to build strong personal relationships with employers in the community; job search begins as soon as clients indicate their interest in working; and wrap-around services are not time-limited.  

Dartmouth’s research has repeatedly shown that employment rates are much higher for people with mental illnesses who have participated in IPS programs versus more traditional employment programs. Research shows that, if supported, employment leads to improved mental health and wellbeing. These successes also translate to lower taxpayer dollars spent on emergency mental health services.

“If a person is willing to work, despite factors that might normally make him or her unqualified or desirable for employment, we are there to help the person through obstacles,” said Mr. Lindstrom. “Sometimes it might be as small a thing as providing a clean shirt or riding the bus with the person on his or her first day of getting to work.”

“Nimble and flexible” are the words that Impact’s CEO uses to describe the agency’s  work style. “We’re person-centered, not a boilerplate delivery service for people experiencing mental illness,” said Ms. Poole. “We try to think outside of the box while personalizing the safety net and support for our clients’ immediate and long-term needs.”

Impact’s new website is impactbehavioral.org. Its phone is 847-866-2977, and  its office is located at 2100 Ridge Ave., Suite G320.