The adult men and women served by AAH vary greatly in intellect, skill and educational level as well as age and experience. They come from a variety of backgrounds as well as various family interactions. Their situations are unique. Each man and each woman has entered the mental health system at different times in their lives. However, each person has the ability and strength inside to become an independent, strong and contributing member of society; complete with friends and social interactions, employment, and a place to live they can call their own. By addressing each person as a distinctive individual, AAH can address their specific needs and circumstances and encourage their unique interests and talents in a manner that promotes their recovery.
What does AAH do?
The Alliance has two distinct programs. Our Permanent Supportive Housing Program provides support in five homes owned by the Alliance Against Homelessness. These homes are part of the community and provide opportunities for 21 single adults to become independent while paying a very small amount of rent each month. These five homes are decorated by the men and women who live there. We encourage each person to make their mark on the houses by planting gardens, choosing their own paint colors and hanging photos or prints that they love throughout the house. We believe that taking responsibility for their surroundings is crucial to establishing roots in the community and venturing forth as an independent adult. The agency provides transportation, instruction in areas of deficit such as budgeting, housekeeping and cooking as well as encouraging socialization in the community.
Our other program is called Shelter Care. This program consists primarily of Case Management Services to individuals that live in apartments in the community and need guidance and support in maintaining their housing and strengthening their personal independence. These apartments are scattered throughout Bergen County. Our clients pay 30% of their income for the rent and government agencies cover the balance of the rental cost through vouchers. Some of these men and women are married and some have families living with them. Although our services are focused on the individuals assigned to our case management program, we seek to ensure the health and stability of the entire household. We work with each of these people from the search for their new apartment (while they are living at the homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter) to the day they begin work. Our supportive services are designed to assist residents in reaching such goals as heightened independence, empowerment and personal achievement.
How was it started?
AAH of Bergen County, Inc. was founded in 1989. The program was the inspiration of Michael Kahn, a mental health services consumer who was homeless and wandered the streets of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey for several years. It was his vision to create a predominately self-sufficient community for mentally ill homeless people by providing comfortable and inexpensive housing options with supports. Today, his vision is a reality. Mr. Kahn, along with other mental health and human service providers in Bergen County, NJ, worked diligently to form the Alliance Against Homelessness of Bergen County. Professionals throughout Bergen County gave their support to the creation of AAH. What started out as an organization with two small homes now serves over 80 people each year in both homes that the agency owns, as well as case management support for people living in apartments in the community.
How do you know you are successful?
One example is, a former residents is now living on her own and serves as a powerful advocate as a member of our Board of Directors. Our residents demonstrate every day that they can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options. We have been successful in reducing hospitalizations and not one of our residents has returned to an institutional setting or the streets.
Most of our residents are thriving. For example, in Teaneck – one of the five residents teaches ESL classes part-time at a local library while also pursuing a Masters Degree in Political Science at FDU. A second attends a day treatment program 5 days/week, a third resident is now working part-time as a janitor and also attending a day program part-time, and a fourth, who was chronically homeless, completed a substance abuse program and attends AA – 5 days a week. Our newest resident is also someone who was chronically homeless. He attends the Drop-In Center in Hackensack, is very active in his church and is actively looking for work.
Our success is saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. For example, one year of hospitalization at Greystone Psychiatric Hospital is $184,700 and $365,000 at Bergen Regional Medical Center. As experienced mental health professionals, they handle psychiatric and medical emergencies and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Approximately 20 – 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness. We get our funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Bergen County Division of Community Development; both of which have been dramatically reduced over the last couple of years.
The cost of the permanent supportive housing and case management support provided by AAH is less than $10,000 per client/year.
What do you hope your residents will accomplish?
AAH residents vary greatly in intellect, skill and education level as well as age and experience. They come from a variety of backgrounds as well as various family interactions.
Each has entered the mental health system at different times in their lives. Their diagnoses range from chronic depression and bi-polar disorder to schizophrenia. Some have utilized alcohol and drugs as a tool for self-medication prior to psychiatric intervention and prescriptions. Others have turned to sex or crime as an outlet for their mental health symptoms.
However, it is our belief that each person has the ability and inner strength to learn to manage their mental illness and become an independent, strong and contributing member of society; complete with friends and social obligations and interactions, employment and a place to live they can call their own.
How are you staffed?
Our staff is extraordinary.
The AAH crew is dedicated to improving the lives of each person we serve. We believe that anyone can create and enjoy the future they want. We work with each person according to their needs and interests. We utilize each persons unique skills and abilities to help them reach their goals.
Our staff members are professionally trained and educated in the Human Service field. We hire mental health peers and professionals who utilize their own experiences with mental illness to guide the men and women they work with in reaching their personal goals and in managing their mental health symptoms. We interact as a team and support each other as needed for the benefit of our clients.
As experienced mental health professionals, we handle psychiatric and medical emergencies and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Is there a risk to people in the community?
Our clients go through an interview and screening process and are no different than anyone you would meet out in public. We evaluate their stability in terms of medication, daily activities, social skills, behavior management, personal care skills, and overall readiness for more independent living. We also look at their level of insight regarding their medication and willingness to continue the medication regimen after entrance into our supportive housing.
Most are homeless because they do not have the network of support they need. Our organization works with each person to create connections to the community through social activities, volunteer work, employment and education. We encourage people to have open honest dialogue with our staff and clients.
We are good neighbors and want to be a friendly face in the community.
Is it possible to recover from a mental illness?
Mental disorders prevent people from carrying out essential aspects of daily life, such as self care, household management and interpersonal relationships.
Approximately 20 – 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness.
Homeless people with mental disorders remain homeless for longer periods of time and have less contact with family and friends. They encounter more barriers to employment, tend to be in poorer physical health, and have more contact with the legal system than homeless people who do not suffer from mental disorder.
However, all people with mental disorders, including those who are homeless, can lessen the impairment and disruption produced by their condition with access to a full range of treatment and rehabilitation services.
Most people with mental illness do not need hospitalization, and even fewer require long-term institutional care.
It starts with hope. Hope that recovery is possible.
Are you able to meet the demands for affordable housing and mental health services in Bergen County?
No, we can not.
We receive phone calls each week from people looking for housing. Most of our callers are mentally ill individuals or friends and family members of someone who is mentally ill. Sometimes individuals live at home with their mom or dad and then, due to illness or death, wind up with no resources and nowhere to live. While the number of individuals experiencing long-term homelessness has dropped in Bergen County, there are still a large number of individuals that need affordable housing and support to live a productive and successful life.
How has the social and political climate affected Alliance Against Homeless?
Our residents are extremely low income so we depend on government grants and the generosity of our individual and corporate donors.
We get our funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Bergen County Division of Community Development (CDBG) although these funds have been dramatically reduced over the last ten years.
The current political climate has the potential to significantly reduce or eliminate some of our funding which could be disastrous. We are advocates for the needs of the people we serve and hope you will consider advocating for the continuation of HUD funds for housing, too! There are many ways you can help. If you would like to know more about our work, please call (201) 664.1700.