by Elizabeth Edgar, Director of the NAMI ACT Technical Assistance Center
Teams working in assertive community treatment (ACT) programs—sometimes known as PACT, FACT, and other variations—help their ACT consumers find and keep the affordable housing consumers want to live in, housing that is both safe and comfortable.
In the ACT programs that follow the established model, people with severe and persistent mental illnesses can have team members visit them—as frequently and consistently as the consumers want them—to give them whatever help they may need to live successfully in any type of housing. The team's support, therefore, gives ACT consumers a wider range of options for places to live than other consumers might have. Most consumers involved with ACT programs live in the same apartments available to everyone in their community.
Even as people with mental illnesses in ACT programs regain greater control over their lives, team members continue to support them so they have no problems meeting their housing responsibilities. Finding and keeping decent, affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges people with severe mental illnesses—and their families as well as the ACT teams—face during recovery. Maintaining a good place to live is hard for people with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from Social Security and have incomes of less than $7,000 a year, well below the poverty level.
Helping people with housing is a top priority for ACT teams. Many consumers have no place to live when they come to the team, often because they come from a hospital, jail, the streets, a homeless shelter, or from living with family. They need immediate housing help. Knowing consumers have a monthly income that is often less than their monthly rent payment, ACT teams help consumers with housing through their flexible “clients’services” funds. These funds can be used to pay for utility deposits, furniture, the required first and last months’ rent, and other “right now” financial needs. Increasingly, ACT teams are also receiving supplemental funding that is to be specifically used to help pay consumers’ rents while they wait for rental subsidies (such as Section 8) from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
ACT teams develop strong relationships with landlords in their communities. Team members stay in close touch with landlords so they can be effective when consumer-landlord problems come up… and before crises arise. Teams advocate for consumers and support them when they have housing needs, such as repairs the landlords are responsible for.
With support from ACT team members, ACT consumers can certainly be very good tenants. But they, too, have responsibilities such as paying the rent on time, keeping the apartment reasonably tidy and clean, and being good neighbors. On the other hand, landlords are often more comfortable because they know they can call the ACT team for advice if they need it to solve a problem.
The very good news here is that ACT consumers have the support they need to live in a place they want to come home to.