When looking for housing, factors that need to be addressed are affordability, quality and safety of the neighborhood, condition of residence, compatibility with roommates, transportation accessibility, daily support needs, and landlord competency. Housing options for people with severe mental illness include public housing, private residential housing, commercial boarding homes, supported independent living, personal care group homes, community residential rehabilitation centers, structured residential programs, and 24-hour care homes and nursing facilities.
The deinstitutionalization movement held the promise of community reintegration for those receiving treatment for mental illness. The goal was to create a transition for individuals from psychiatric hospitals to a community health system, and then provide them with housing and services in towns and neighborhoods where they could rejoin their community. The concept was sound. The evolution of the concept has not lived up to the promise. Instead, people with mental illness face a variety of housing challenges including unaffordable housing options and scarcity of services and support. Furthermore, because of mental health stigma, communities are frequently unreceptive to the idea of housing for those in recovery from mental illness in their neighborhoods - a viewpoint known as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).
The NIMBY syndrome is a significant barrier to successful deinstitutionalization. According to SAMHSA, the absence of sufficient housing for people with mental illnesses can result in homelessness. Some estimates indicate that 40 percent of the nation's homeless population consists of single adults with severe mental illnesses. The NIMBY point of view is an unfortunate outgrowth of inaccurate media portrayals of and lack of knowledge about individuals living with mental illness. Even individuals sincerely sympathetic to the housing issue sometimes draw the line on compassion when the housing is proposed in their communities. When we read about the emotionally charged protests against supportive housing in our neighborhoods we hear shocking statements like "send them to Mars." It is important to remember that the term "them" in actuality represents our neighbors, our friends and our families.
Education is the first step to enlightenment. Helen Keller, a woman who overcame overwhelming social stigma said, "The highest result of education is tolerance." The public is bombarded by falsehoods and sensationalism. The media plays a complicit role in the housing issue when they choose to sensationalize isolated incidents, fueling fears and misconceptions. What is almost never publicized is the fact that the vast majority of those in recovery from mental illness rejoin their communities with great success. They have genial relationships with their neighbors, live productive lives and positively contribute to their communities.
HUD approved housing counseling agencies
The Supported Housing Association of New Jersey, a great resource for locating housing assistance.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
New York Regional Office
Jacob K. Javits Federal Building
26 Federal Plaza - Suite 3541
New York, NY 10278-0068
Phone: (212) 542-7109
Fax: (212) 264-0246
Newark Field Office:
One Newark Center
1085 Raymond Boulevard
Newark, NJ 07102-5260
Phone: (973) 776-7200
Fax: (973) 645-2323
For legal help you can use New Jersey legal by county:
(To utilize legal aid you must meet their income requirements, which are 200% of the poverty guideline. Chances are, if you don't meet their financial guidelines you probably won't be eligible for many of the residential programs offered.)
Self-help services for legal issues in New Jersey:
Information about various housing programs in New Jersey:
Tenant rights, laws, and protections for New Jersey: http://www.hud.gov/local/nj/renting/tenantrights.cfm
Click here for information on what to do if you have been displaced from your housing