Interview with non-profit: Mental Health Association from Oklahoma
Local non-profit organizations have been contributing to our society very significantly, and we often forget that important fact. Every promotion is welcome for the organization, so Ranger Roofing of Oklahoma, the top roofers from Owasso, Oklahoma, got an idea to take that in our hands and try to help them out in their excellent work.
This time, we will be talking about Mental Health Association Oklahoma, an organization with a big mission to promote mental health, preventing mental disorders, and achieving victory over mental illness through advocacy, education, research, service, and housing. In the interview below, you can find out more about their work, challenges and future plans. Enjoy the reading!
To begin with, we would like you to briefly tell us about your organization
Mental Health Association Oklahoma (the Association) is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders, and achieving victory over mental illness through advocacy, education, research, service, and housing.
- What do you do exactly? And what was the reason that encouraged you to start this organization?
Mental Health Association Oklahoma (the Association) has been advocating for Oklahomans impacted by mental illness and homelessness since 1955. We are dedicated to promoting mental health and the equity of access to mental health care through advocacy, education, research, service, and housing. The Association currently owns and manages 1,469 units of affordable housing in Tulsa and 112 units in Oklahoma City.
Our programs include housing, mental health education, support groups, pro bono counseling, mental health screening and referral, suicide prevention, peer-to-peer recovery services, employment readiness, community health and wellness initiatives, and criminal justice advocacy. Our housing program utilizes a Housing First model that provides immediate access to safe, decent, and affordable housing for individuals impacted by mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse, and criminal histories. While fragmented systems of care struggle to meet the complex needs of these individuals, our mission is designed to greatly reduce barriers to accessing affordable housing and mental health care in one collective effort. We believe our housing program and wrap-around services position us to begin meeting the mental health care needs of the most vulnerable members of our community.
- What motivates you? Describe your mission passion
For more than 60 years we have fought for essential access to community-based services. Our staff, volunteers and supporters have stood side-by-side in the face of tragedy and despair. We have leaned on each other through support groups and pro bono counseling services. Together, we have watched individuals overcome incredible hardships to flourish, grow and succeed.
- Tell us about your goals
Mental Health Association Oklahoma envisions a just, humane and healthy society in which all people are accorded respect, dignity and the opportunity to achieve their full potential, free from stigma and prejudice.
- What was the hardest/toughest moment you had to deal with?
Obstacles you faced when dealing with bureaucracy, permits, funding, etc. Something you would like to point out to anyone who might be starting their own organization.
Our Yale Avenue Apartments offers 76 apartment units consisting of market-rate units for the community at large, plus units reserved for tenants, including veterans and people impacted by mental illness, homelessness, co-occurring disorders and people who have disabilities.
Its story represents one of the toughest moments we experienced as an organization, but also one of our greatest successes.
As early as 2007 the downtown Tulsa YMCA announced it would close its housing program in early 2010 for veterans, older adults, and people who were formerly homeless and had a disability. Without a housing plan in place, tenants were in jeopardy of ending up back on the streets.
The Yale Avenue Apartments were developed to provide housing to about 50 of the approximately 120 men and women displaced by the closing of the YMCA’s housing program. Yale Avenue Apartments was conceived as part of the larger effort of Building Tulsa, Building Lives, which was created not only to just manage homelessness but to prevent and end it.
It was built through the cooperative efforts of the Association staff members acting as consultants with expertise in understanding the needs of people who were homeless and chronically homeless. The Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa acted as developer and construction manager. The Mayor’s office of the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma acted in cooperation and contributed financially. In addition, the Zarrow Family Foundation and the Ruth K. Nelson Trust served as strategic leaders with knowledge, understanding and financial commitment for the project.
Because state taxpayer dollars were used, and the Public Housing Authority non-profit was the developer, Yale Avenue was subject to disclosure under the Open Meetings Act and also required the approval of City Council. The Council approved the project, but the neighborhoods rallied against it, mischaracterizing the nature of the project leading to significant media attention. The developers hired a civil rights attorney, attempted mediation and after that threatened federal lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act of 1988.
Nearly 50 downtown YMCA tenants moved into Yale Avenue Apartments in January of 2010. More than two dozen of them were a part of the Association’s Safe Haven program, which had been embedded on one floor of the YMCA.
After opening, many of those who once opposed Yale Avenue Apartments became some of its most outspoken advocates once they witnessed firsthand how it changes and saves lives. Positive outcomes included a reduction in homelessness, the economic benefit to the businesses around the site and a measurable reduction in crime. The same neighborhood associations that were objecting to the project were so happy with the outcome that they convinced the Association to purchase a blighted and crime-ridden apartment complex less than two miles away.
Today, Yale Avenue Apartments offers tenants private living quarters, coupled with community social spaces that are common for its tenants. In addition, low-cost group meals are offered three times a day, but many units have small kitchens that provide the flexibility to accommodate people with a variety of living skills and lifestyles. The complex also features a library with computer access, a workout room, a lounge and activity room and laundry facilities. A key aspect of Yale Avenue Apartments’ location is that it is nearby other amenities with connecting services to public transportation, grocery stores, shopping and employment opportunities in the surrounding area.
In all, the development of Yale Avenue Apartments illustrates how our overall housing model prevents and ends homelessness for multiple target populations, preserves affordable housing, improves communities and saves taxpayers’ dollars while also saving lives, like Glen’s.
When Glen lived on the streets on and off for five years, he struggled with depression, anxiety, and the fear he wouldn’t survive life on the streets. To meet Glen at Yale today, one wonders how someone so gentle and kind could ever end up alone on the streets. While homeless, Glen said he never allowed himself to call shelters “home.”
“Before I came here, I heard people call the shelters ‘home,’ Glen said. “I refused to do that because it would have meant I had given up.”
In January 2010 Glen finally left behind homelessness on the same day we opened our Yale Avenue Apartments.
“That day,” Glen said, “I walked into my apartment and thought to myself, ‘I’ve made it. I’m finally home.’ ”
- What was the most fulfilling moment that happened to you?
There have been too many to count, but we give thanks for our countless supporters throughout the state who make those fulfilling moments happen each day for people impacted by mental illness and homelessness. For some of these fulfilling stories, be sure to check out our inspirational blog at www.mhaok.org/blog.
- What separates you from the rest? Why you?
Honestly, we cannot change, sustain and save lives without our supporters and stakeholders all working towards a common goal. The Association routinely collaborates with community agencies, organizations and other stakeholders across the state. Many of these organizations are working together to help people move from homelessness to sustained housing stability, with needed services effectively wrapped around them. They are also helping people navigate the complex mental health system and divert people out of incarceration and into treatment.
- Do you have any upcoming events in the forthcoming months?
Our annual gala, Carnivale, is March 24, 2018 at the COX Business Center in downtown Tulsa. All Carnivale proceeds benefit Mental Health Association Oklahoma’s housing programs, among other services. You can learn more at www.bestpartyintown.org. In addition, our Zarrow Mental Health Symposium is September 27-28, 2018 at the COX Business Center. You can learn more at www.zarrowsymposium.org.
- What is it that you love most about what you do?
There is so much to love. But to put this into perspective, we’ll simply say we love stories like John’s, who was among the first people to move into our first apartment complex in Oklahoma City.
John spent four years living in a tent near the North Canadian River in Oklahoma City. Impacted by untreated mental illness, he became homeless following the death of his grandmother. John is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and was unable to maintain work because of the symptoms he experiences.
Shortly after connecting with one of our case managers, John was able to move into his new apartment. John’s case manager now checks on him at least once a week. She helps John by assisting in everyday needs like providing furniture for his apartment and helping him get to doctor’s appointments. Our case management model is designed to assist our residents in developing basic life skills, connecting them to mental health care services, and identifying employment opportunities.
“It’s like magic every day when I wake up and see everything,” John explained. “I can’t believe we’ve made it this far … I know I’ve got a lot more to do, but I want to start helping other people as much as I can because there’s people out there starving and freezing right now, and that’s scary.”
- What is the biggest challenge you’re faced with today?
According to recent research conducted by the University of Tulsa’s Institute for Health Care Delivery Science, Oklahoma has the second highest rate of mental illness in the United States but ranks 46th in the nation for the utilization of mental health care services. Oklahoma also has the second highest rate in the nation of substance abuse with studies revealing that 60% of adults and 40% of youth are not receiving needed mental health care treatment. We believe these startling numbers identify a critical need for mental health education, including public awareness of community resources and basic navigation of health care systems.
- Anything else you would like to add?
When people volunteer with the Association, we rely on their compassion, generosity and unwavering support to give hope, comfort and joy to the amazing people we serve in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We offer volunteer opportunities where people can help Oklahomans currently on the streets receive life-saving Street Outreach Care Packages. Then they can actually gather a group of friends or co-workers to get their hands dirty as they make an apartment ready for someone moving off the streets and into our housing. And on the day that person moves into their apartment, volunteers can provide them with an overflowing welcome basket full of essential items ranging from dishes to toiletries, and so much more. We are always seeking care and committed volunteers throughout the year. You can learn more at www.mhaok.org/volunteer.
Contact: How can people reach out to you?
Your organization’s name, phone, address, e-mail and links to your website and social media
Mental Health Association Oklahoma
Phone: 918.585.1213 and 405.943.3700
1870 South Boulder Avenue
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74119
Oklahoma City Headquarters
400 North Walker, Suite 190
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73102
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