|The Story of Dave’s House|
Many of us take so much for granted – a healthy brain, a clear-thinking mind . . . a safe place to live. For people with serious and persistent mental illness, none of these can be taken for granted – they are uncertainties that plague them every day.
Dave’s House was borne out of an understanding that in order to live life as fully as possible, a person in recovery from mental illness needs a safe, secure and affordable place to live. And in Greater Orlando, Dave’s House is that place!
Inspiration: My Brother’s Life
After the sudden death of my brother, Dave Jeffreys, in April of 2007, my husband, Ron, and I knew that we wanted to honor him in some way. For forty years, Dave battled one of the most menacing of mental illnesses, schizophrenia. The onset of his illness came in the prime of his life when he was a junior at college – typical timing for that disorder as I now know. I had followed Dave to the same college and remember vividly the moment he asked me in the dining hall if all the people there were laughing and staring at him. His hallucination that night was the beginning of a lifelong and severe disability. He had had so much promise – kind hearted, generous, good-humored, a born leader and perfect role model in every way with so much potential – until, it seemed, this illness robbed him of his entire being and rocked the world as our family knew it.Dave battled his illness with the courage and determination so typical of his character using the tools available – electric shock treatments, medications, and psychotherapy. Yet, for 25 years he struggled to find some semblance of stability, and with clock-like predictability every 3 or 4 years he would need to be hospitalized having descended to a devastatingly low place; it was like starting over again each time. During one of these crises, it became clear that he could not live on his own, a harsh reality that sent us on a mission to find affordable housing with the support system Dave so desperately needed.
Through networking, we discovered just the right place, an agency that specialized in permanent, supportive housing in our Northern Virginia community. Dave lived in one of their single family homes in a regular neighborhood just like you and me. He had two housemates and was visited by a counselor twice a week and when needed. Dave flourished in this environment. His success at living in supportive housing was evidenced by his not needing any hospitalizations for the remaining 15 years of his life!
For Dave, living in supportive housing meant realizing his maximum possible quality of life. For us, his family, it meant peace of mind knowing that Dave could live with dignity and independently with the support he needed for the rest of his life. And, for the community, it meant living at society’s best. I know firsthand that it works.
In the summer of 2008, Dave’s House opened – the first of its kind in the Greater Orlando
Dave’s House is owned and operated by Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare. Ron and I provided Lakeside the prototype in Virginia to emulate, an opportunity to benchmark with that agency and personally see their operation, and seed money to get started.
There was absolute consensus among Lakeside staff that this housing model was a needed long-term strategy to help clients sustain recovery.
Ron and I approached only Lakeside about the idea of Dave’s House. Lakeside has a 25-year track record of caring for the people of Orlando! I have been on the Board of Directors for 12 years and know what Lakeside can do. Besides the clinical skills needed to provide the supportive piece of this program, Lakeside has housing experience.
In fact, the majority of residents who will live in a Dave’s House have been through a multi-month program of learning life skills (how to cook, good hygiene practices, etc.) at Independence, a Lakeside group home with 24/7 staff support. Following completion, individuals can transition to College Place supervised apartments where they can live temporarily up to 2 years while they hone their life skills. From there, they now can “graduate” into a Dave’s House. Dave’s House provides a vital continuum of care that is complete and integrated.
Previous to Dave’s House, there were few good options after the apartments – living with family who often don’t have the appropriate skills to care for their loved one, assisted living facilities which frequently have substandard living conditions or living on the street.
Vision for the Future: Opening Doors
The need is great. Lakeside can easily identify 100 people who could benefit from this kind of housing. Lakeside is looking to open three more houses this year with a goal of 20 houses by 2020!
Ron and I appreciate the enthusiasm of so many to get Dave’s House up and running – our friends and family who encouraged us from the start and have become loyal supporters; Jerry Kassab, CEO of Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare; the Lakeside Board of Directors and staff who decided Dave’s House was worthy of their time, effort, and financial and human resources; and Dave’s House residents who every day inspire us to continue the journey.