A Plan for Supporting Housing and Recovery-Oriented Services

In the fall of 2005, the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) unveiled a landmark document entitled A Call for Change: Toward a Recovery-Oriented Mental Health Service System for Adults. The OMHSAS Adult Advisory Committee formed a Housing Work Group to develop a set of principles, strategies and action plans for expanding housing with recovery-oriented services for consumers. The group was charged with developing a document that is consistent with the guiding principles set forth in A Call for Change and that can be used by OMHSAS and other commonwealth agencies to set priorities and target resources, and by the county mental health offices to address the housing needs of their consumers. The county mental health offices continue to identify housing as one of the major challenges they face in meeting the service needs of persons with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders in the community.

A Plan for Supporting Housing and Recovery-Oriented Services is the November 2006 report of the Housing Work Group. It addresses housing with recovery-oriented services for all adults with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders. This plan remains relevant today and continues to be a guide to developing supportive housing throughout Pennsylvania.

Since 2006, OMHSAS and the County Mental Health offices have been working to advance a recovery-oriented and community-integrated system, which includes supportive housing as one of the social determinants of health. In November 2006, OMHSAS developed a structure for counties to utilize HealthChoices reinvestment funds to develop Permanent Supportive Housing. Seven interconnected housing strategies may be used, and include Capital Projects, Bridge Rental Subsidies, Master Leasing, Housing Contingency, Housing Clearinghouse, Housing Support Services and Project-Based Operating Assistance.

2016-2020 Supporting Pennsylvanians Through Housing

Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS), Office of Social Programs (OSP) works closely with the program offices in DHS, including OMHSAS, on advancing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) across the commonwealth for individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mental illness. DHS developed a five-year housing strategy titled “Supporting Pennsylvania through Housing.” This document clearly articulates the demand and need for Permanent Supportive Housing, the barriers to PSH, as well as specific actionable strategies and goals for expansion and access to PSH for individuals DHS serves.

Definition of Permanent Supportive Housing

Supportive housing is a successful, cost-effective combination of affordable housing with services that helps people live more stable, productive lives. Supportive housing works well for people who face the most complex challenges—individuals and families who have very low incomes and serious, persistent issues that may include substance use, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS; and may also be homeless, or at risk of homelessness.

A supportive housing unit is:

  • Available to, and intended for a person or family whose head of household is experiencing mental illness, other chronic health conditions including substance use issues, and/or multiple barriers to employment and housing stability; and may also be homeless or at risk of homelessness;
  • Where the tenant pays no more than 30%-50% of household income towards rent, and ideally no more than 30%;
  • Associated with a flexible array of comprehensive services, including medical and wellness, mental health, substance use management, and recovery, vocational and employment, money management, coordinated support (case management), life skills, household establishment, and tenant advocacy;
  • Where the use of services or programs is not a condition of an ongoing tenancy;
  • Where the tenant has a lease or similar form of occupancy agreement and there are no limits on a person’s length of tenancy as long as they abide by the conditions of the lease or agreement; and
  • Where there is a working partnership that includes ongoing communication between supportive services providers, property owners or managers, and/or housing subsidy programs.

Supportive Housing is:

  • Safe and Secure
  • Affordable to consumers
  • Permanent, as long as the consumer pays the rent and honors the conditions of the lease.

Supportive Housing is linked to support services that are:

  • Optional. People are not required to participate in services to keep their housing, although they are encouraged to use services.
  • Flexible. Individualized services are available when the consumer needs them, and where the consumer lives.