State Fund Helps Thousands Maintain Housing while in Mental Health Treatment

In the throes of a mental health crisis, no one should have to worry about how they’re going to pay the rent. When that crisis requires treatment or hospitalization, they shouldn’t have to choose between getting well or getting evicted.

The Crisis Housing Fund was established to make sure that no low-income Minnesotan has to face those impossible choices.

Established by state legislation in 1993 and unique to Minnesota nationwide, the Crisis Housing Fund helps cover the rent or mortgage and other housing related expenses of residents while they receive care for serious mental illness. Administered by the Minnesota Housing Partnership for the state Department of Human Services the program provides short-term financial assistance to people whose income is being used to pay for an inpatient or residential mental health treatment of 90 days or less.

Over the past two decades, thousands of Minnesotans have accessed the program. According to a new MHP analysis, more than 7,000 applications have been funded, amounting to more than $6 million in assistance since the start of the program.

One critical component of the Fund’s success is its rapid response. “A mental health crisis can happen very quickly,” says Gary Travis, a Mental Health Program Consultant at the DHS. “One of the goals is to ensure that any rental or mortgage assistance is issued within five days of a completed application. There’s a quick turnaround on it so we can make sure that person’s housing is stable and they have that resource when they return from treatment.”

To receive assistance, individuals must have their applications submitted by an eligible agency, including nonprofits, governmental units, and Indian tribes located in Minnesota. Vail Place, a mental health resource center with facilities in Minneapolis and Hopkins, is just one of the many organizations that have utilized the Crisis Housing Fund. “This fund is a godsend for maintaining housing in a time of crisis,” says Dan N, a Vail Place caseworker. “It’s easy to apply and the processing time is short. My clients really appreciate the help in a time of crisis and recovery.”

According to our analysis, the majority of individuals utilizing the Fund receive treatment for three months — and nearly 80% use that assistance to retain unsubsidized housing. Based on data from 2014 and 2015, the average monthly income for Fund recipients was just $1,074.

That assistance has gone to Minnesotans across the state. “We tend to see that individuals in populations centers are accessing it more,” Travis says, but over the past two decades the Fund has touched nearly every county.

Still, Travis says, the Fund isn’t being tapped to its full potential: $610,000 per year. “We have funds available to meet the need, but the program is not being fully utilized at the moment,” he says.

But, thanks to lawmakers, that soon may change.

Historically, Travis explains, the Fund was only open to people with serious and persistent mental health illnesses. This past legislative session, the persistent prerequisite was eliminated, opening it up to a much wider swath of Minnesotans. “We’re projecting about double the number of people will be potentially eligible,” Travis says.

Already, in the first six months of 2016 MHP has seen a 20% increase in requests, with many new mental health professionals submitting applications. “With the change in the legislative requirement and increased outreach by both the State and MHP, I anticipate the usage of this program to expand greatly,” says Barbara Dolan, MHP’s Crisis Housing Manager. “My goal, as the MHP administrator of the program, is to utilize every available dollar to its best use; and that use is to assist low and moderate income individuals in their healing.”

With more than 7,000 served since 1995, the Fund has already had a significant impact across the state. As Judy G. wrote to MHP several years ago: “I am the mother of a client who was in the 90 day program at Community Options on Rice Street [in St Paul]. My daughter is also involved with “the Guild,” which helped arrange for her apartment rent to be paid with funds from your organization while in treatment. Thank you. I am very grateful for your support.

Learn more and subscribe the the Crisis Housing Fund quarterly newsletter here.