Habitat for Humanity: partnering to help families with mental health issues -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Habitat for Humanity: partnering to help families with mental health issues

By Chris Vincent

Habitat for Humanity and the Open Society Mental Health Institute (MHI) are partnering to help Kyrgyz families with mentally‐disabled members who live in poverty housing. The first phase of the partnership was a pilot project that supported six families from Kyrgyzstan who have family members affected with mental health and intellectual development issues. Habitat for Humanity’s role in the partnership has been to help renovate the housing in which these families are living, while MHI, through a local partner, provides medical, sociological and psychological care at home.

As with many Western European countries that have dealt with or are dealing with their histories of long‐term institutionalization of people with mental health problems, many ex‐Soviet countries are only now starting to confront the issue. People with mental disabilities are among the poorest and most marginalized in every society, especially in Central and Eastern Europe where their situation is characterized by isolation from society, according to MHI.

“This project enables Habitat to tackle a deprived layer of society to have decent housing access,” said Loucine Hayes, program development manager for Habitat for Humanity Europe/Central Asia. “This is a pilot model for Habitat and shows that Habitat can become a facilitator to provide access to shelter, support integration into the society, and support accessible medical care and supervision in a home environment.”

MHI works to promote the social inclusion of people with mental disabilities. “This partnership demonstrates that there are simple and cost‐effective solutions to provide support to people with mental health problems in their own homes with their families,” said Judith Klein, program director, MHI. “This avoids unnecessary segregation in long‐stay institutions, where they experience dependence, isolation and exclusion.”

The partnership has shown tremendous initial success, with families showing decreased hospitalizations and an increase in free time to support the members with disabilities due to the fact that family members were spending less time on upkeep of the house. Additionally, the project brought media attention and awareness to an issue that needs attention to help shift cultural norms away from institutionalization over time.

The next phase of the project will take the lessons learned from the pilot and increase the number of families participating in the program to 18. The success of the pilot has enabled and encouraged Habitat for Humanity to begin similar projects focused on families with members who have both physical and mental disabilities in Romania and Poland.

By allowing people with mental disabilities to stay in their homes and improving their living conditions, Habitat and MHI are combining their expertise to allow people with mental disabilities and their families to lead more normal and productive lives.

Chris Vincent is director of congressional relations and international affairs for HFHI's Washington, D.C. office