The Geauga County Mental Health Board recently narrowed down potential plans to help fund building or retrofitting a local structure to house the mentally ill.

The discussion took place at their regular monthly meeting last Wednesday when board member and housing subcommittee chair Mary Ruth Shumway emphasized the need for this housing.

The board ultimately decided they would be better equipped to fund partner agencies to do this rather than do it themselves.

Ms. Shumway said she has been having discussions with partner agencies and learned through numbers provided by Ravenwood Health of 27 individuals and six families that are homeless within the county. All of them are receiving mental health services, she added.

“There was some discussion whether or not we might consider purchasing either housing or trailers as emergency shelter for those people and bidding out community psychiatric supports and treatment services to come in and run it, because we’re not going to,” said Ms. Shumway.

The county also needs step-down facilities from the jail, Ms. Shumway said.

“Sixteen people are now in the jail per day that should probably be in a mental health ward rather than jail,” said Ms. Shumway. “We’ll be working for different options to see what we can come up with.”

Board member Skip Claypool said housing is not a mental health issue and asked whether the board had the authority to look at housing.

Ms. Shumway said that housing and mental health are connected.

“A mental health issue may be the root cause, but it’s not housing,” said Mr. Claypool. “We don’t have bag people running around Geauga County.”

The discussion was interrupted by a presentation from Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss. OhioMHAS is the governing body of the mental health board and appoints some of its members.

Ms. Criss said that mental health is moving from institutionalization in order to help people recover and thrive.

“Part of that is about infrastructure,” said Ms. Criss. “Do you need different facilities? Do you need residential options so that people have a place who are leaving the hospital or jail? What can we do to prevent people from going to hospitals and jails in the first place?”

Chairman Steven Oluic said Mr. Claypool could ask Ms. Criss if it is “truly in our mission to work the housing crisis.”

“Mental health clearly is our purview,” said Mr. Claypool. “We fund agencies and others to do those services. We don’t do mental health ourselves. Those agencies may find a need for housing, like Ravenwood has the youth center. The county commissioners fund that. In terms of us building housing, we don’t respond to mental health issues by funding housing. We would fund agencies if there’s a need for housing, a shortage in some way shape or form – we may fund an agency to be able to do that.”

Building housing is a long-term commitment and has a business element to running it, said Mr. Claypool.

“I don’t think we’re prepared from a business perspective to do that,” said Mr. Claypool.

Ms. Criss said that housing is one of the critical elements of recovery – health, home, purpose, and community – where home refers to residential stability: having a place to lay down and have meals.

Most boards would have development of housing as a priority and they would have partners in the community like a housing developer and service provider, but the board would not own or operate the housing, said Ms. Criss.

The board should look to the community to understand what the housing needs are, see who is best positioned to fill those needs, and then partner with them rather than lifting that endeavor themselves, she said.

Board member Greg O’Brien supported using a public-private partnership to help with the housing crisis for mental health needs.

“I don’t believe any governmental body, especially this body, is in the business of managing and owning,” said Mr. O’Brien, “but we certainly are in the business of helping funding and partnering with the stakeholders that you mentioned.”

Mr. O’Brien said the board will be in touch with Ms. Criss and that Geauga County, in the last 10 years, collaborated with developers, stakeholders, and professional operators of those facilities.

“Government does not have .a good track record in making decisions in this way,” said Mr. Claypool. “I’ll point to Metzenbaum as an example. A huge investment went into the Metzenbaum facility to create a nurturing environment for folks with mental challenges. Then, all of a sudden, government decided that wasn’t the way to go, so we’re going to spin it around and put it in our community.”

In his lifetime, Mr. Claypool said, he has seen several instances of government making a decision, either the regime changes or the practice changes, and then, all of that investment is wasted.

He said the board should “think through our practices to make sure that they’re well thought-out and that we don’t have a Metzenbaum situation where we’ve got a huge investment sitting in Chesterland right now which is not serving its original purpose.”

Providing housing is not the government’s job, but presents a business opportunity for others, like hospitals, said Mr. Claypool.

“If we can help assist the significant capital cost of either building anew or retrofitting a structure and entering into a long-term contract, that is in our purview, and that’s something that I’m committed to pursuing,” said Mr. O’Brien. “I realize that I’m only one person, but that’s something I’m going to do everything in my power to get done.”

Other board members, including board member Ann Bagley, said they agreed.

“We’re not landlords, we’re advocates,” said Mr. Oluic.

The board also discussed campaign methods for their .5-mill renewal levy coming up on the Nov. 8 ballot, such as strategically placing signs in population clusters like Bainbridge and Chesterland. Mr. Oluic said the levy is the board’s main goal at this time.

One hundred percent of the levy goes to fund mental health services, said Associate Director Amie Martin-D’Arienzo.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a request for an allocation of $10,810 for state fiscal year 2022 for the provision of mental health services provided by Lake-Geauga Recovery Centers in addition to an allocation of $376,742. This applies to services they had already received but had not yet been paid for.
  • Took no action following an executive session to discuss the employment of a public employee.

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