|Danielle Jeffries & Ruby Howard|
Ruby Howard takes a while to warm up to describing past episodes of her life.
The 58-year-old Virginia Beach woman traveled a path through emergency rooms, psychiatric units and homeless shelters for a year before coming to an apartment complex where she's now seated with a case manager.
"I could see whole episodes go on that weren't really happening," Howard said. "I could come in here and not see this table. Or I could see something that is there and it ain't there. I was schizophrenic. My psychiatrist knew, but I didn't know. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I thought I was all right but I was totally messed up."
"I don't like to talk about it, because I don't like to think about it."
But she does because she feels strongly about the Cloverleaf apartment complex she moved into five years ago. It's run by Virginia Supportive Housing, a nonprofit that opened a complex in Norfolk a decade ago and has since opened 60-unit complexes in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake.
It's just one example of a model that helps people at risk of being homeless because of finances or disability live in the community with onsite help.
A growing mix of people - the frail and elderly, the mentally ill, people confused by dementia, those without money or family - often fly under the radar.
But the old and frail often wind up together with the young and disabled in longterm-care facilities and adult homes. Some of the sites have staff well trained to blend the populations using therapeutic approaches, and give people space they need.
Others fall short, putting people at risk of injury.
Some housing options are available, but they're in short supply.
The Hope House Foundation, for instance, provides services in apartments and homes for people with disabilities. Community Services Boards support people with mental illness in apartments. PACE centers, or Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, in Virginia Beach and Portsmouth help disabled people 55 and older continue to live in neighborhood homes.
The problem? There's not enough to go around.
Mira Signer, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said: "Generally, it's the same old story - state policy and funding that are not aligned with the needs of the disabled population. It's a very marginalized population, so the needs aren't known."
For instance, there have been bills before the General Assembly for years to expand the auxiliary grant program, which funds care for low-income, disabled people in assisted-living facilities and adult homes. Advocates want to increase the grant amount, which is so low now that many homes won't accept it, and expand it to other types of programs such as supportive independent living.
The legislation is continually tabled: "All they see are dollar signs, and they don't want to pay for it," Signer said.
But for those who support the idea, the dollar signs are in their favor.
Tracey Clark directs support services for the Virginia Supportive Housing complexes in Hampton Roads. She said a homeless person typically costs the public $50,000 a year in hospitals, jails and ER treatment, compared with $15,000 to $20,000 per person in one of their complexes.
"That's not to say everyone becomes the perfect community citizen and never goes to jail or the hospital," she said. "But the likelihood is less."
Howard, for one, has lessened her hospital time.
One day earlier this month she sat in an office at Cloverleaf apartments, where she comes to visit with case managers. On this day, it was Danielle Jeffries.
Another resident in the hallway was loudly complaining about someone who failed to show up. He spoke so angrily that Howard stopped talking and put her hand to her forehead.
"He's not always this way."
Jeffries asked whether she wanted her to bring in a white noise machine, but the tenant settled down and Howard returned to her story. (Continue Reading)
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For a lucky few, happy endings in living situations