What housing is available for people with mental health disabilities in NC?

WUNC - North Carolina Public Radio logoThis is the second in a five part series about housing in NC’s mental health system.

Thousands of people with mental health disabilities live in large adult care homes and in smaller family care homes in North Carolina. Advocates argue that many of these facilities are too institutional to truly help their residents integrate into the community. Now the federal government is investigating the state. Justice Department attorneys contend the state’s reliance on such facilities to house people with mental illness could violate federal law and Supreme Court rulings.

In this installment, I explored some of the housing options available for people with mental health disabilities. I visited a family care home, talked to someone who had lived in an adult care home (he lives in a group home now), and talk with someone whose sister lived in adult care homes for 14 years before getting her own apartment.

One question that kept coming up as I interviewed people… what constitutes a place being an ‘institution’? It turns out that the language of the law isn’t completely clear – is an adult care home an institution or not?

For many advocates, the definition of ‘institution’ comes down to this question: Would I want to live there?

People with disabilities they say they want some choice. Some, like Joanne Howell, say she likes living in a family care home. Others, like Josh, say an adult care home wasn’t for him.

You can listen to the story here:

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Story guest-edited by Cheryl Devall, news editor, Southern California Public Radio

2 responses to “What housing is available for people with mental health disabilities in NC?

  1. Heather Wright

    I am an occupational therapist assitant student. I have been working in a community where many of the employees live in a “group home”. When I ran across this story, I couldn’t help but think about my psychosocial class and the people I have been working with on Field Work I. Most of the folks I am working with all live in group homes. I am now thinking about what these group homes are like and who the staff member are at a group home. I love the story about Josh who has schizophrenia. He is living in a group home and he says he loves it. All the tentants in the home take turn with food and chores. This reminds me of a “clubhouse” environment. This is a wonderful tool for motivation and learning new skills. I know how hard it is for those dx with Schizophrenia to maintain a job and income. How nice it is to have a group environment to fall home to. I wonder how long group homes will continue to operate. If no one is making any money off the operation and MI funding is being cut everyday, where will these individuals go? We already see the revolving door of MI in hospitals and outpatient clinics. I can only imagine the increased amount of homeless people living on the streets due to closures in group homes. The other questions I have is who monitors the staff and operations in a group home? I can’t imagine living in an environment and not being provided with enough to eat? I hope to visit a group home and gain some insight into this delima. Thanks for your story and I look forward to the next in the series.

    • Hi Heather,

      Thanks for commenting.
      One thing I learned doing this series is that a group home isn’t a group home isn’t a group home. A lot of people, even advocates, sometimes lump them all together, and call them all “group homes.” I ended up educating the head of one of the local clubhouses on the distinctions between all of these and nursing homes (really, really different, as you probably know).

      On the licensure side, ‘group homes’ like the one Josh lives in now are different from ‘adult care homes’ where he used to live, or from ‘family care homes’ where Joanne Howell lives. Size is one difference – ‘group homes’ and ‘family care homes’ are small. ‘Adult care homes’ can be anything larger than 7 people. Another difference is the level of staff training. There are something like a half dozen different levels of licensure just for group homes! As you can imagine, I didn’t go into that level of detail about all those in the stories – people would turn off the radio!

      ‘Group homes’ have staff who are supposed to work with people with mental health problems, and their intent as homes is to be specifically for people with mental health disabilities. But staff in ‘adult care homes’ and ‘family care homes’ have not traditionally had training to work with people with mental health problems.