As recently reported by the City of St. Louis Department of Human Services, 100% of chronically homeless people in St. Louis have diagnosed disabilities, 70% have a mental illness and 33% have a substance abuse problem. Research additionally shows that one-third of all people who are homeless live with mental illness. Mental illness leads to numerous barriers that make it very difficult for individuals to receive and maintain residency; one who is ensured the safety of a home is more likely to fulfill a contributive role in society, helping both themselves as well as the community they reside in.
In 2010, an initiative called Opening Doors was enacted as the United States’ first comprehensive plan to address the problem of homelessness. One of the many specific goals of the program is to increase access to safe and affordable housing, as well as more supportive housing arrangements, to prevent and ultimately put an end to homelessness. Due to the progress and success of Opening Doors over the past few years, the estimated number of people who are chronically homeless has dropped 21% nationwide.
Independence Center focuses on connecting members to affordable and quality housing to perpetuate this decline in homelessness. It is Independence Center’s vision that adults living with mental illness can work and live in their community independently and with dignity. The Laclede and Lohmeyer Apartments are Independence Center owned and provide opportunity for permanent and independent housing for members. Newstead Place and the Jane Howell Stupp Apartments are two residential care facilities that provide assistance with 24-hour access to services for residents, including meals, medication distribution, and case management. These facilities provide transitional housing where members who need extra care learn the skills and habits necessary to live in more independent settings. These facilities are very important to the progressive mission Independence Center represents, as it helps members build a strong foundation of living where they can focus on advancing further personal goals.
Independence Center also helps members find housing outside of the four aforementioned facilities; in the past year Independence Center has provided over 300 members with this extended housing assistance. DeAndra Smith is one of these members, first coming to Independence Center in November 2014. In 2007 he lost his house due to major cuts made to his job working at a restaurant, a position he held for more than seven years. DeAndra was homeless; he managed day-to-day in temporary living situations with friends and a homeless shelter. The loss of a stable home and the new hostile environment DeAndre found himself surrounded by caused DeAndra’s anxiety and depression to take over. He spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital constantly suffering from anxiety and panic attacks; this is where he learned about Independence Center. Since his time here, DeAndre has been connected and approved for a housing program, and now lives in an apartment. Furthermore, DeAndre has discovered joy working in Independence Center’s kitchen to prepare meals. His goal is to enroll in L’Ecole Culinaire, a culinary school in St. Louis, where he will learn what it takes to one day open his own restaurant. DeAndre says that he “feels more supported here than anywhere else, even in the short time it’s been.” He finds a sense of comfort coming to prepare dinner almost every day of the week, and feels as though he is in a completely different place from last fall. Through his new found stability in a home and as a member of Independence Center, DeAndra is confident in the strength he has to begin culinary classes within the next year, pursue his passion, and live a more fulfilled life.