A Path Forward

A Path Forward

Pathway Homes provides affordable housing to those suffering from mental illness.

Employees and customers march in Pathway Homes’ Walk to End Homelessness.

Employees and customers march in Pathway Homes’ Walk to End Homelessness. Photo contributed

When Susan Massey applied for subsidized housing through Pathway Homes in 1994, her paranoia caused by schizophrenia made day-to-day activities such as grocery shopping, going out to eat, and interacting in groups extremely challenging. Now, after living in group homes, an apartment, and, today, an assisted living facility through Pathway Homes and receiving counseling through the same program over the course of the past 25 years, she is able to take care of both herself and her cat, Dusty.

“When I first started with Pathways, I was nervous about everything,” Massey said. “One time I had a panic attack when a counselor took me and some others in my group home out to eat. I remember my counselor followed me to where I had gone to sit away from the group and asked me, ‘Are you really alright?’ It really made me feel like she wanted to take care of me, and I’ve felt that way about Pathways ever since.”

Pathway Homes is a nonprofit seeking to provide permanent housing for those suffering from severe mental illness in Virginia, most of whom either are or have been homeless. While their homes are located throughout the state, many of their customers reside in Mount Vernon.

“We have strong ties with the Mount Vernon area,” said Director of Development Anna Smith. “It’s a great area to teach our consumers how to be good neighbors and reintegrate into a community.”

Smith said that one of the most important aspects of the Pathway Homes’ mission is the belief that “four walls are not enough.” Pathway Homes offers supportive services such as case management, counseling, and preventive medical care to help their clients remain in the housing provided, reach their goals and get back on the road to recovery.

“Our customer-first policy means that if the client does not want the supportive services we offer along with the housing, that’s fine,” Smith said. “99% of our customers want to get better, though, so whether their goals are to reconnect with family, get back to work, or simply to get help budgeting or buying groceries, our counselors are there to help them reach their full potential.”

To make housing affordable, participants pay 30% of their adjusted income and rent. Pathway Homes then covers the difference between what the consumer can pay and what it costs to live in the given unit.

“The cost to the community of supporting a mentally ill individual without permanent supportive housing falls around $40,000 a year when you add up all their insurance costs, medical costs, emergency care costs, and so on,” Smith said. “When they are enrolled in Pathways, however, and are given a home, research has shown that number drops to around $9,300.”

Marti Kelly, a Mount Vernon area native and a customer of Pathway Homes says that the success she has achieved through this program has given her the desire to “pay it forward.” She shared her story at a Pathway Homes event during Suicide Prevention Month and has joined with the Knights of Columbus to raise money for the nonprofit.

“I still struggle with thoughts of suicide, face multiple health issues and I get down on myself,” Kelly said in an article she wrote for Pathway Homes monthly newsletter. “However, I then think of the many people that need my help and need to hear my story. They need to know there is help for them as well. I have a purpose.”

“So many people believe these ugly cultural myths about who people with mental illness are,” Smith added. “More likely than not, they are the victims, not the perpetrators, of violence. Like anyone, they simply need connections and resources to guide their recovery. If you’re living in the woods without the medical care you need, it’s hard to find those, but, by providing housing and supportive services, we help them not only to recover, but to reach their goals.

For more information on Pathway Homes, visit http://www.pathwayhomes.org.