Unique public-private partnership helps mentally ill into housing
For some, pride of ownership has nothing to do with owning the deed to a house.
If the wide grin on his face doesn’t make it plain, Joel Arteaga-Novoa will confirm it for you verbally: The nice, clean, air-conditioned one-bedroom apartment you are standing in is his and his alone. And it represents a big step up.
Arteaga-Novoa, 33, joined 10 other formerly homeless Sacramentans who celebrated the opening of the Fairview Apartments June 21 among a crowd of well-wishers—many of whom had not seen what the building in the North Arcade area looked like prior to its $2.3 million facelift.
The Fairview is a Turning Point project. Turning Point contracts with Sacramento and Stanislaus counties to provide services to indigent individuals with psychiatric diagnoses and support services for families with children who are at risk for out-of-home placement because of their emotional needs.
Purchased with a combination of county dollars and construction loans, the building was hazardous and an eyesore. Sacramento County ponied up $880,000 of the total $2.3 million to purchase and renovate the Fairview, while Turning Point provided the remaining $1.4 million for the renovation using construction loans.
The project took advantage of state money earmarked for getting homeless people with severe and chronic mental illness off the street.
“We found this Pepto-Bismol-color building, quite run down,” said John Buck, CEO of Turning Point Community Programs. “So bad was the smell in the apartments that when then County Supervisor Muriel Johnson came to view [the building], she had an allergic reaction to the place.”
Today, the structural, code and electrical issues have been dealt with. The 10-unit complex has a bright, shiny, white—not pink—facade. There is landscaping. There is parking in the back. There are a small barbecue pit, two picnic tables and a mural in the common areas. There are central heat and air, energy-efficient appliances, new light and plumbing fixtures, new carpet and mirrors.
In short, Buck said, “We wanted to make it the way all of us would like our apartments.”
Arteaga-Novoa also serves as the property’s building manager and has decided to combine his bedroom and home office. He’s clearly pleased with the fact that he has had that choice to make.
Overseeing the needs of 11 tenants in 10 units and the building grounds, Arteaga-Novoa says, represents another challenge to him.
“To develop more contact with the community,” Arteaga-Novoa said, “instead of isolating. I’ll be somebody in the community. I’ll be representing Turning Point. I’m a peaceful-type person, and I think this is a good environment for me.”
Arteaga-Novoa remembers other environments and times—like the Navy, where he didn’t make it through basic training before receiving a psychiatric discharge and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Or bouncing from compassionate but non-understanding relatives’ homes, from one to another, before ending up on the street again. Or room-and-board facilities that didn’t “encourage clients to get motivated.” Or times when odd jobs were all he could handle.
Arteaga-Novoa said he’s seen significant improvement since becoming a Turning Point client in 2001 and that this latest move is positive proof of his continuing success in recovery.
“It’s my first apartment by myself since 2001,” he explained. At the same time, he’s reminding himself to check with the contractor to draw up a list of “everything he wants me to check, so I can keep this place looking nice.”
Arteaga-Novoa has followed through with several steps of Turning Point’s homeless-intervention program—including time spent in a closely supervised living situation. He explained that he “did more than expected” along the way.
“For myself, I went further,” he said. “I started volunteering for Turning Point. Whether it was answering phones or filing. I saw I could do that and showed them I could do that. Then I’d take on another job for one of the employers. Then other jobs would open up.”
“It’s a happy feeling for me,” he added later, “knowing they recommended me for this job. Knowing that feeling … that they had confidence in me.”
The “housing first” model has grown increasingly popular in counties throughout California, and for good reason, Buck said.
“What we know is that if you house a person first, they’re more likely to be able to engage in counseling, medication, therapy, etc.,” Buck continued, “than if you ask them to meet all those appointments while they’re still homeless. It is the model that has proven most successful with people who have psychiatric disabilities who have experienced chronic homelessness.”
Since 1999, the homeless-intervention program has provided 338 people with housing and services. The program provides a rental subsidy so that clients/tenants of Fairview, all of whom are on fixed incomes, only pay a percentage of their rent based on income. It also provides round-the-clock psychiatric care, benefit and employment support, addiction and mental-health counseling, community integration and case management.
At the opening of the complex, former Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, author of the legislation that provided funding and the flexibility for the project, told Buck and others that Turning Point does “the Lord’s work” and that Fairview should be a model for countless other projects throughout California.
Steinberg reminded the audience that because of the Mental Health Services Act passed in 2004, commonly referred to as Proposition 63, $1.5 billion has been earmarked over a 20-year period to provide permanent housing for chronically homeless persons with psychiatric disorders—funds that may be leveraged three times over to provide a total of $4.5 billion for the same time period.
“Not only will the lives of the mentally ill be better,” said Steinberg, “but the lives of all of us will be better if we do this. I’m proud a project like this is happening in my backyard.”
Buck told SN&R, “This has been one of the proudest days of my life. To provide permanent, affordable housing for folks—I will always remember this project, both for its duration and what it’s going to do for those living here.”
“Housing is key,” Arteaga-Novoa added. “You need to be stable with housing. Somewhere you can go where you can get clean, somewhere you can be reached. Second, you’ve got to have medical treatment. Thirdly, you need support from someone who will advocate for you. Turning Point does that for me.”