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Community News
Doors to Home Ownership Open for Mentally Ill People
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 2 page 8-8

Empty plots of land are quickly becoming places where people recovering from serious mental illness can realize dreams that once seemed out of reach.

"A Partnership to Open Doors" is a year-old project that combines the missions of three organizations—Habitat for Humanity International, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and the National Mental Health Association (NMHA)—by building affordable houses for people recovering from serious mental illnesses.

The shovel met the ground for a third time in the partnership’s history at a groundbreaking ceremony in DeKalb County, Ga., on November 7. Two other houses have been built under the partnership—one in Fort Worth, Tex., in November 2001 and another in Indianapolis this past July.

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Jerome Lawrence speaks at the DeKalb County, Ga., groundbreaking ceremony last month as former first lady Rosalynn Carter (far left) and CNN news anchor Daryn Kagan (second from left) look on.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter appeared at the DeKalb County site with a number of program partners, including representatives from NAMI, NMHA, and a local church, to speak about the initiative. Prospective homeowner Jerome Lawrence, who is recovering from schizophrenia, also spoke at the ceremony.

Carter, who is chair of the Carter Center Mental Health Task Force and honorary chair of "A Partnership to Open Doors," explained the impetus behind the new initiative in a Habitat for Humanity press release. "For many years, I have worked to help improve the quality of life for people with mental illnesses. And for many years, Jimmy and I have been building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Now these two causes are coming together in an exciting new partnership. . . . [W]e believe that, while increasing opportunities for home ownership, we can decrease the stigma associated with mental illnesses."

Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization established in 1976 by Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda, to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness around the world. The organization uses volunteer labor and donations to build homes for people who are economically disadvantaged.

People who qualify for housing under the Habitat program typically pay low mortgage payments that move into a revolving fund used to build additional housing.

Lawrence, who lives with his mother, will work along with volunteers to help build his home in lieu of a down payment on the $52,000 house. He is scheduled to move in when the construction is complete next March.

When he spoke with Psychiatric News, Lawrence said that he sees the new house as much more than just a place to live. "For me, this house means freedom, achieving something, getting somewhere—making progress."

Lawrence was pursuing his arts degree at Georgia State University when as a senior doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia. "It was devastating," he said. The illness caused him to drop out of college and to quit his job with a T-shirt design and print company.

As Lawrence began the long journey toward recovery, he eased himself back into art classes with encouragement from friends and now teaches a "recovery through the arts" program at a local church for other people with mental illness. He also works as an administrative assistant with the Georgia Mental Health Consumers Network and said he will be able to afford the $450 monthly mortgage payments.

Lawrence said the new house will play an important part in his continuing recovery. For instance, he plans to convert one of the rooms of the house into an art studio where he can paint.

"I’m getting older—I’m 42 now, and I see all the people I grew up and went to school with getting married and buying homes," he said. "Things like that were only dreams for me before. I have a girlfriend now, and I’m buying a house—I’m making progress."

More information about Habitat for Humanity International and press releases on "A Partnership to Open Doors" are posted on the Web at www.habitat.org.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Jerome Lawrence speaks at the DeKalb County, Ga., groundbreaking ceremony last month as former first lady Rosalynn Carter (far left) and CNN news anchor Daryn Kagan (second from left) look on.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter appeared at the DeKalb County site with a number of program partners, including representatives from NAMI, NMHA, and a local church, to speak about the initiative. Prospective homeowner Jerome Lawrence, who is recovering from schizophrenia, also spoke at the ceremony.

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