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Treatment and Housing: A Seamless Service Model for High Need Populations


By Janice Slaughter, MSW, CASAC, Director of Mental Health and Housing Services, and Peter Provet, Ph.D., President and CEO, Odyssey House

A  report published by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in 2013 found that: “Supportive housing has been demonstrated to end homelessness for persons with complex needs and to reduce overall public systems’ involvement and costs.” These “complex needs” include an array of problems familiar to us and other providers of substance use disorder treatment and mental health services. At Odyssey House, we manage the urgent care of individuals who frequently cycle in and out of jails and homeless shelters, hospital emergency rooms and inpatient psychiatric hospitals, residential substance abuse and mental health treatment facilities.

This ‘cycling’ comes at enormous cost to the individuals who suffer from untreated mental health and substance use disorders, the families who struggle to find their loved ones appropriate care, and the taxpayer who largely foots the bill for expensive crisis intervention services.

For close to 50 years Odyssey House has been a strong provider and advocate for community-based services that work to stabilize and treat people with chronic substance abuse and mental health disorders. We are known for providing intensive and extensive, cost-effective, evidence-based care for a diverse range of populations that includes: mothers with young children; adolescents; senior citizens; incarcerated adults; the homeless; people living with HIV/AIDS; and those with chronic mental illness. These populations require specialized services tailored to specific behavioral needs that, if left untreated, not only limit a person’s chances of living a healthy, independent life, they end up costing more in emergency shelter, criminal justice involvement, and healthcare services.

Extending Our Treatment Mission

Helping people faced with the challenges of mental illness and/ or substance use disorders is our mission. Our mission also extends to providing services for these individuals and families in their own homes. Odyssey House housing specialists and case managers offer tenants access to vocational, peer recovery, substance abuse, medical and mental health treatment in a range of permanent and transitional living situations.

In 1994, we opened our first congregate care, intensive residential treatment program for people who are living with mental illness and/or in recovery from substance abuse. This 60- bed program in East Harlem, the Odyssey House Harbor, currently provides essential transitional services for severely mentally ill homeless adults referred from city and state psychiatric hospitals who, with support, can live independent lives in the community. Since then, our housing portfolio has grown to include a wide range of housing options for more than 456 single adults and family members who have either completed residential substance abuse treatment, are homeless and living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic medical conditions, or are homeless and working to manage their mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders.

With the support of our government partners at New York State Department of Health (DOH), New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), New York City HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), our portfolio has grown to include scattered site apartments, community residences, and apartment buildings in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.

Investment in Special Needs Housing

In the last few months, we completed construction of two new apartment buildings in the Bronx. In partnership with OMH and private tax credit investors we custom designed, developed, and managed the construction of a 56-apartment green building (applying for LEED certification) on Soundview Avenue and a 65-apartment building on Tinton Avenue. Both of these new buildings (designed by Urban Architectural Initiatives) provide supportive housing for homeless men and women living with mental illness.

The capital and ongoing revenue funding for these new programs falls under New York State legislation to provide mental health services, including housing, within the community. With the opening this Spring of these two new buildings (and the 50-apartment building we opened in 2010 on 123rd Street and Park Avenue), Odyssey House currently manages the housing and supportive services needs of 171 formerly homeless New Yorkers who, despite serious mental health challenges, are now living independently in their own homes.

Working to Support Recovery In New York State

The demand for safe housing is also acute within the population of people in recovery from substance abuse disorders. Almost a third of the participants in our intensive residential substance abuse treatment programs are either homeless or marginally housed when they enter treatment. As part of their recovery process from chronic substance abuse, we work with them on relapse prevention techniques, work skills, job placement, and finding and maintaining secure housing. In New York City, where housing is premium priced and affordable housing is in short supply, we dedicate an increasing amount of our resources to helping clients secure housing and work closely with our partners in government to address urgent housing needs.

In the last several years, OASAS has partnered with us in providing a variety of housing options in either a transitional community residence or scattered-site permanent apartments for 150 individuals and families who complete treatment. We count ourselves fortunate to be supported by our partners in OASAS whose mission statement calling for “safe, affordable housing and stable living-wage employment are fundamental to successful long-term recovery,” is congruent with the needs of our treatment population.

We are equally grateful to our partners in OMH for committing to “a future when every New Yorker experiences hope and recovery and when people across New York have access to and choice among the supports and services that fosters self-determination for living, working, learning and participating fully in their communities.”

As treatment services evolve to support individuals within their communities, we are developing housing and outpatient services that complement and extend the efficacy of residential treatment. Our evidence-based services provide a continuum of care proven to offer the best return on investment as measured by reduced recidivism, emergency medical visits, and shelter stays.

In its mission statement, OASAS endorses “nonprofit-operated affordable housing, supported by on-site services … (as) the means by which New York State is able to give hope to individuals, families and communities in recovery.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

For further information on Odyssey House treatment and housing services, please speak to an Admissions Specialist by calling: 212-987-5100, or send us an email at:

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