Housing Authority asks Douglas County to help develop long-term housing for behavioral health patients

The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority asked the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday to partner with it to develop eight to 10 apartments at the site of a proposed mental health crisis intervention center.

Shannon Oury, executive director of the Housing Authority, made the request at a work session on the housing needs of those with behavioral health issues. Also at the table with commissioners to share a 14-page report were representatives of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and DCCCA and Bob Tryanski, Douglas County director of behavioral health projects.

Oury said the Housing Authority had $2 million it saved through efficiently managing past U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, which its board wanted to use to develop eight to 10 supportive long-term housing units for those with mental health problems. Oury requested an arrangement in which the county would build the complex and then sell it and the property it was built on to the Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority would manage the units and pay for ongoing maintenance, but would not be able to fund mental health programing for residents, Oury said.

There was urgency to move forward with the proposal, Oury said, because in the past, HUD had taken back grant funds which had gone unused for long periods of time. Commissioners could not take formal action at the work session, but they agreed to put Oury’s request on their Oct. 4 meeting agenda.

The Housing Authority’s long-term supportive housing proposal was the third of three tiers of housing options that would make the home of the proposed crisis intervention center “an intervention and recovery campus,” Tryanski said.

Housing at that site would give patients, who often had transportation challenges, easy access to the proposed crisis center, as well as to the Bert Nash facilities across West Second Street and nearby Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Tryanski said.

Tryanski and representatives of Bert Nash and DCCCA explained that the proposed Tier 1 housing would be provided for a few days to a month for those in crisis, and Tier 2 housing would be a transitional arrangement lasting up to 24 months for those needing to stay engaged with services as they dealt with mental illness or substance abuse.

Tier 1 programing could involve the expansion and redesign of an existing Bert Nash program that works with the homeless, the presenters said. It would require about eight apartments or units, which Tryanski said could be part of the crisis center.

Proposed Tier 2 housing would include 10 cottages for men at the crisis center site and a 10-unit complex for women and their children at DCCCA’s Lake View facility.

Although Tryanski and the other presenters admitted more details of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 housing units needed to be developed, they suggested a number of funding options for ongoing operational costs. Those included Medicaid, patient insurance payments, dollars spent on current programming and county funds. Much of the programming was already in place, the presenters said, but it would be realigned once the housing was complete.

Commission Chair Mike Gaughan said the report gave commissioners much to consider. He was interested in hearing more on how proposed programing would fit with the county’s financial commitment to behavioral health initiatives, including the $1.9 million allocated in the 2018 budget.