I am writing as a charter member (one of six) of the Carriage House Clubhouse with several major severe mental illnesses: depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. Thanks to the Clubhouse program and staff, I am vastly improved today over 15 years ago, when the Carriage House began.
The issue of funding the Carriage House is not an intellectual exercise. For me, and hundreds like me, it is a life-and-death matter. Living with an illness where abhorrent thoughts constantly torment my brain has brought me close to suicide on many occasions. Mental illness is a living hell. Several of my good friends have taken their lives because of the intense pain. The Carriage House combats the pain with meaningful work activities, both within and outside the Clubhouse, and fostering strong friendships that give us true self-worth. Additionally, we now have a wonderful video ministry where our members may tell their story on tape, giving them healing relief.
Despite the striking success of Carriage House, state officials made the decision to change Medicaid regulations, which cut Carriage House funding by half, and have slashed funding dollars from the Park Center budget, which goes mainly to caring for the most severely mentally ill patients in Indiana.
The actions by previous Indiana state officials have seriously threatened the continued operation of Carriage House. However, at the outset of Gov. Mike Pences administration, a tour visit from first lady Karen Pence and a meeting with the Pence administration have given us true hope. It is hope that Gov. Pence and the Legislature could mandate a line-item funding source for the Carriage House, or federal Medicaid reimbursement for certified Clubhouse model rehabilitation programs, or some other vital funding support. All other states support Carriage House-type programs.
Such changes make great financial sense. They would continue and expand the number of Indiana residents in the workforce, generating income and paying taxes every year. They would greatly reduce the number of people with mental illness who wind up homeless or thrown into jails ill equipped to care for them. They would markedly increase residents enrolled in area schools and greatly decrease hospital days for Carriage House members.
In 33 years of street ministry, I have met numerous homeless people. The important word is people. Made in Gods image, they have been struck down and stigmatized as mentally ill. There but for the grace of God go you – or I. With help, many can improve tremendously. We do need the medicines, the treatments. Yet there is something missing – a solid, financially secure place where we can come, be loved, and learn to function successfully in our city. We deserve nothing less. We will not go away.
Please encourage the governor, the mental health agencies, and the mass of our citizenry to bring those with mental illness back to life.
A Native American proverb says to give dignity to a man is above all things. We simply must give that dignity, that respect, that support to all our friends and relatives with severe mental illness.