Arizona's Center of Hope provides transitional and permanent supportive housing as well as behavioral health treatment for new and expectant mothers.
Pregnancy can be physically and mentally stressful, even under the best of circumstances. But add in a mental and/or substance use disorder and a lack of stable housing, and the risks to both the woman and her fetus are magnified. While some substance use and mental health programs treat women who happen to be pregnant, Arizona’s Center of Hope takes a different tack.
“We found that the needs of this population are very different, and normal housing programs didn’t meet [the women’s] needs,” says Kimberly Craig, vice president of women’s and children’s programs at Community Bridges, the Mesa, Arizona, organization that oversees Center of Hope. “They had expectations of use, and sometimes our women would relapse, and then we’d have a woman with children in relapse, and then homeless.” Even after a period in transitional housing, with its intensive level of services, for the most part, the women still needed a supportive environment. So in 2005, Community Bridges approached the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for transitional housing dollars to be used to support 24 units on a single campus where they’d then be able to provide “a component of pretty intensive behavioral health services to meet all the women’s needs,” says Craig. It was the birth of Center of Hope.
Permanent Supportive Housing
All residents experience either a mental and/or substance use disorder. But unlike standard residential treatment facilities, which offer 30- to 90-day stays, Center of Hope is less focused on a set duration for the women to live there.
“In addressing the needs of the population, we needed a longer-term environment where we could wrap services around the woman throughout her pregnancy, reduce the likelihood of substance-exposed infants, and then give her enough time to recuperate,” says Craig. “Most women, when you think about traditional housing programs, there’s an expectation that they’ll be working within a certain amount of time after they enter the program. But for this population, that makes no sense—even a woman without substance abuse and mental health issues will take a 12-week maternity leave.”
So Center of Hope developed into permanent supportive housing. Today it operates outside the HUD continuum, and women stay there according to their own needs. They live in fourplexes, with two fourplexes side by side, for additional security. Perhaps more importantly, the fourplexes create instant communities.
“We know women heal through connection, so that’s important,” says Craig. The City of Mesa provided the Community Development Block Grant funds that allowed Center of Hope to purchase and rehabilitate those units. Because that resulted in improved neighborhoods, the Mesa police department also came on board as a partner in property acquisition. The long-term plan is to have an entire city block of fourplexes. For now, all fourplexes are located within a five-mile radius of the main campus so residents are easily able to access services via public transportation.
Wrap-around Services for Recovery
Those services follow the day treatment model, and include on-site urgent medical care, therapy for trauma and violence, substance use groups, education and life skills classes, vocational support, resume building for the women, and developmental assessments for children. Parent-child interaction groups and family therapy are also provided. Although the women’s partners don’t live with them, many are involved in their treatment and encouraged to attend groups and classes. Domestic violence has not proven to be an on-site issue, but the fourplexes are closely monitored and Craig says the partnership with the city and the police department includes an agreement that Craig or a staff specialist will be immediately notified about any 911 calls from the units.
Women are referred to Center of Hope by service providers, family members, and housing providers who send over those who are struggling with substance misuse. A large percentage have been involved with the criminal justice system and are on probation or have been incarcerated. Craig says the Department of Child Safety is more willing to place children with their mothers at Center of Hope than they otherwise would be, and that those women whose infants are removed from them at the hospital are frequently reunited with them for the same reason.
Center of Hope is in the process of breaking off from Community Bridges to become a subsidiary agency.
"We’re a program for women run by women, and we know that women’s recovery needs are different," says Craig. "So we’re really a specialty program and we’ve decided that we’re going to become our own nonprofit organization." To do that, they’re putting together a women’s advisory group that includes various community leaders, as well as Center of Hope alumnae, many of whom are already returning on a daily basis—as employees.
This article was originally published to highlight the July 2015 theme of Women’s Behavioral Health Conditions.
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