Martha negotiates the snow on the sidewalk outside her apartment without complaint. The way she looks at it these days, there’s an upside. “Eventually, the snow is going to melt. That’s when things blossom, and bloom,” Martha said. “That’s me. I’m starting to thaw.”
Martha is one of almost 200 RHD clients who successfully transitioned from living in a group home to maintaining their own residence in a recent mental health residential transformation initiative spearheaded by the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health. In all, Philadelphia-area mental health providers eliminated 300 slots in area group homes; RHD was by far the largest.
Clients who were interested and had the capacity moved from 24/7 residential care into supported independent living in their own apartments through RHD’s Team ARRIVE (Achieving Recovery and Rehabilitation with Individual Vision and Excellence), with services as needed.
ARRIVE is the mobile core services team for individuals moving to permanent supported housing in Philadelphia. Utilizing psychiatric rehabilitation, peer support, and intensive case management services, ARRIVE is a community-based service for individuals with mental health needs. ARRIVE supports people as they locate, move into, and live successfully in their own home regardless of mental health symptoms and needs.
“I’ve been doing this for forty years, and I’ve never been involved in a better process,” said RHD clinical system specialist Ginnie Davidov. “A large group of people stayed together, and were committed to the mission. It was a remarkable process.”
RHD opened a new service while simultaneously closing others, but maintained quality services for the clients in a time of major transition. The process was relatively seamless and wildly successful; the hospitalization rate during the transformation was less than 5 percent, and 179 clients were able to transition successfully to independent apartments within 18 months, with services and support from RHD as needed.
Martha was a resident at RHD’s Womanspace, Philadelphia’s only female residential treatment program for dually diagnosed, chronically homeless women, before transitioning to her own apartment with support from Team ARRIVE.
“Sometimes it’s a little scary, because I’ve never done this before,” Martha said. “I didn’t want to leave (Womanspace). But I said to myself, it’s time to go do what they taught you. I had to learn how to maintain myself, how to pay my bills, how to go into the kitchen and cook something to eat, how to bathe every day, how to care for myself.
“I wanted to be free, to be happy, to be normal. I didn’t even know what normal was — but I knew I wanted it. The day I was able to turn the key and walk through a door into something that was all my own? I mean … pinch me. It feels like it can’t be real. But it’s real.”
These days Martha dances in her living room, putting on some music that moves her and dancing a joyous, wild dance on hardwood floors in her socks.
“RHD saved the day, for me,” Martha said. “They’ve saved my life.”
“A lot of the success has stemmed from the unwavering hope and belief that all people have the capacity to learn, grow and live as meaningful and integrated members of the community,” Team ARRIVE director Juliet Marsala said. “It has been an honor to work with so many who keep these beliefs in the forefront of supports provided.”
Shannon Swope is a Certified Peer Specialist with Team ARRIVE. She went through her own journey to independent living with RHD’s SALT (Supported Adult Living Team) and now works with clients making a similar transition.
“I know exactly how they feel; the people that I work with, sometimes I tell them what they’re thinking before they can even say it,” Swope said. “One of my very first participants at Team ARRIVE is a 70-year-old woman who had never lived on her own. Ever. I worked with her from Omni House when Omni House shut down, and within one year this woman was living on her own.
“She was someone who was saying, ‘I can’t do this. You guys don’t understand. I’ve never lived on my own. I’ve always had someone taking care of me.’ Then one day she said to me: ‘You know what, Shannon? I think I’m ready not to have you any more …’ And she meant that in a good way, you know? I see her all the time now, and she’s just like, ‘Yup. Still doing it!’ And that’s why I do this.”
RHD worked with a number of landlords and realtors to help clients choose the apartment that fit them.
“I have seen these participants complete their journey, overcoming various obstacles and setbacks to reach the final chapter of the housing process,” said Jackson Duncan, a realtor who worked with RHD to help ARRIVE clients attain their own apartments. “There is no greater feeling in this business than handing the keys to one of these individuals, and seeing the smile on their face as they enter the next phase of their lives.”
RHD staff began with an assessment of all the people in its care and assembled teams to create mobile services, including mobile psychiatric rehab and certified peer specialists. RHD also opened United Peers, a peer-run education, support and community inclusion program.
“It had to be something they wanted for themselves, and didn’t feel pushed to do,” RHD Corporate Program Coordinator Jamie Moshe said. “If they wanted to, but didn’t feel they could, we made sure there was support for them to help them with the transition. We were bringing services up, and closing them down at the same time, which never happens. But with the support of management, programs, budget, compliance, everyone, we made sure each piece was covered.”
RHD staff was also asked to fit into new roles, which required training, communication and career counseling.
“There were a gazillion moving pieces,” Moshe said.
In all, residents remained healthy and safe, the work force improved with more skillful service provision, and service provision was more fiscally responsible. Susan Fleetwood moved from SALT to become tenant services coordinator at Team ARRIVE.
“I love seeing people move toward independence, and we’re all proud to be able to assist in that process,” Fleetwood said. “This feels very much like a start-up, where we’re building something new, and coming up with innovative ideas to make it happen. But it’s very much in keeping with the RHD values, in that the direction of the services comes from the participants. We’re not pushing them, we’re not pulling them. We’re walking side-by-side with them.”
Among the clients Fleetwood is currently working with is Ralph, who is a resident at La Casa, a residential facility for men experiencing chronic homelessness with serious mental health challenges. With Team ARRIVE, Ralph is getting life skills training, wellness workshops and intensive case management to support his recovery. Ralph and his peer support specialist Leo Watts from Team Arrive are getting ready for his move into his own place.
“This is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ralph said. “I’m 58 years old, and I didn’t know I could still learn things in life from a young man like this. But he’s been there through the good and bad with me, whenever I’ve needed him.
“I’m doing a lot more on my own now, and I’m a lot more confident. RHD and the people at ARRIVE, they’re a godsend.”