Advisory board extends grant for behavioral health group home

Officials with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Douglas County say a transitional group home planned for the proposed behavioral health campus is moving forward after two recent decisions.

The transitional group home was to be part of an $11 million behavioral health campus funded through the Proposition 1 ballot question, which voters rejected in May. The campus was planned for the 1000 block of West Second Street just north of the Bert Nash headquarters. Matt Faulk, Bert Nash housing program director, said the group home was to provide temporary housing for people transitioning from a behavioral health crisis.

In December 2017, the Lawrence Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommended that a $495,000 grant be awarded to Bert Nash for the construction of the group home. The advisory board makes recommendations to the Lawrence City Commission about how the money collected from the city’s 0.05 cent affordable housing sales tax should be allocated. On July 9, the board agreed to extend the availability of that grant through Oct. 31, Faulk said.

“We have to finalize a contract by the end of October to receive the grant,” he said. “The city has sent us the contract, and we’re working on it. I fully intend to have our draft of the contract back to them by the end of August.”

The advisory board’s decision came after the Douglas County Commission agreed earlier on July 9 to make $400,000 available in 2019 for the construction of the proposed transitional group home, said Jill Jolicoeur, assistant to the Douglas County administrator. She and Faulk said the County Commission’s decision was crucial in the Affordable Housing Advisory Board’s extending the $495,000 grant for the transitional group home and not reallocating the money for other projects.

“The affordable housing grant was contingent on Bert Nash securing the remainder of the funds to build the home,” Faulk said. “The county’s stepping up was huge in the advisory board’s decision.”

The $995,000 now available is about $200,000 less than Treanor Architects estimates it will cost to construct the group home, Faulk said. To make up the gap, the Bert Nash board of directors has been asked to consider the use of endowment funds for the project, he said.

A second funding option could be an affordable housing grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank in Topeka, Faulk said.

“I’m very confident we would get a high score on our application when it’s submitted next spring,” he said.

Jolicoeur said a third alternative would be to scale back the group home to cut costs. As currently envisioned, the home would provide transitional housing for 10 to 12 residents who were moving out of a behavioral health crisis.

The only such housing now available in Douglas County is the eight-bed Bridges program that Bert Nash offers, Faulk said. Bert Nash also partners with the Lawrence Community Shelter, but that has challenges because that setting is not specifically designed for those recovering from behavioral health crisis. By contrast, Bert Nash would provide professional around-the-clock staffing to help group home residents to re-integrate into the community, he said.

The County Commission also envisioned that an eight- to 10-unit apartment complex would join the group home on the campus. Shannon Oury, Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority executive director, said the apartments would provide long-term housing for those with persistent behavioral health issues.

Construction of the apartment complex wasn’t dependent on passage of Proposition 1. Oury said she always intended to build the apartments with $2 million that the Housing Authority saved from the efficient administration of previous U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants.

Oury told the Journal-World previously that she was completing paperwork needed to get HUD approval to use the money on the apartments and hoped to break ground in January 2019.


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