No place like home
The Mental Health Association in Tulsa’s housing programs are helping to reduce, and possibly end, chronic homelessness in Tulsa.
For Daniel Beach, the housing programs of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa (MHAT) have been a godsend.
Beach, a 46-year-old former teacher and divorced father of two, suffers from a variety of mental disorders. In July 2006, he found himself sleeping under a tree one night after being released from a treatment center and dropped from a bus in Tulsa. From that low point, he was introduced to the MHAT’s Altamont, a former residential hotel near downtown that features around-the-clock staffing.
Thanks to this facility, Beach has begun the journey back toward rebuilding his life.
“I never thought I would be here,” he says. “But I feel safe here. They call it Safe Haven, and that’s exactly what it is.”
Altamont’s permanent residents pay monthly rent, while the Safe Haven program is designed to get residents connected to service providers and help them move on to permanent housing.
“We’ve seen people weep when we hand them the key,” says Connally Perry, administrator for the Altamont and MHAT’s Safe Haven program.
MHAT’s housing programs began in 1990 with the opening of the Walker Hall Transitional Living Center, which was established to help 12 individuals with serious mental illness transition from supportive to independent living. Now, MHAT has 16 housing programs, which have garnered national attention, including 13 apartment buildings for the mentally ill across Tulsa for a total of 287 units.
As a result of these programs, MHAT is helping lead a new initiative, “Building Tulsa, Building Lives,” which could end chronic homelessness in Tulsa. Some may wonder whether this is even possible.
MHAT Executive Director Michael Brose says this goal is not as ambitious as it seems. While the perception is that the number reaches into the thousands, Tulsa’s chronic homeless population is only about 200 to 250 people, he says.
“Our goal is (to operate) 511 units,” Brose says. “We think if we can raise enough money to have that much housing, we think we’ll be able to eliminate chronic homelessness.”
The initiative has spawned a coalition that includes Mayor Kathy Taylor’s Task Force to End Chronic Homelessness, the Zarrow Families and the Tulsa Housing Authority, as well as 21 other partners.
The initiative’s job became more difficult with a decision by the fire marshal to order the closure of the downtown YMCA by Jan. 1, 2010, which will lead to the displacement of about 150 current residents. MHAT, though, is working hard to find placements for them by the end of 2009.
MHAT staff are hopeful that “Building Tulsa, Building Lives” will result in more success stories like Beach. Beach says the stability and safety net that the Altamont provides have allowed him to feel something he thought was gone from his life — hope.
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” he says. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get very discouraged. … But I guess the way I view it is that I have to tell myself there are things in this world that are worth pursuing, worth living for. I know someday I’m going to be able to see my daughters again.”