Imagine that someone who is battling cancer or heart disease is also homeless. Imagine that the disease is a major reason they are homeless—medical bills drove them to bankruptcy and even limited their ability to earn a living.
Now imagine instead that the disease is mental illness.
Robyn Hudson doesn’t have to imagine. As housing specialist for Tri-County Mental Health Services, she works with dozens of Clay, Platte and Ray County residents who have been homeless while dealing with mental illness, often a severe mental illness. Although she must master everything from managing repairs to landlord-tenant law, she also thrives on helping people who face challenges many of us cannot imagine.
“Getting a roof over someone’s head is a big part of stabilizing his or her life,” she explained. “It makes working with everything else a lot easier. You can see progress when that happens.”
Modern medications and other treatments mean that many mental health consumers can lead normal and productive lives, although the stigma surrounding them often paints a different picture.
“I feel strongly that if people are housed, their lives can become manageable,” Hudson said. “A lot of folks who are homeless aren’t going to take their meds or get to their doctor appointments. Living on the street is just not healthy, but once we can change that, we can change a lot of other things, too.”
While Tri-County operates a group housing program and several “cluster” programs, much of the effort involves working with area landlords and consumers to find matches and establish long-term solutions. Hudson works with landlords to ensure location quality and with consumers to improve independent living skills.
“A lot of our consumers have not read a lease in a long time, and we want them to be informed about the agreements they enter,” she explained. “Then there are things they need to know and what’s excepted of them. There’s a lot of education involved.”
Some landlords are extremely helpful, but newer ones, especially, often see mental illness through the same stigma that often colors public perception. “If landlords are hesitant, we don’t blame them,” she noted. “We work with them, let them know the situation and work with them. We’re fortunate because we have some really good relations with a number of landlords, and we help each other. If something is a little off, they’ll keep us posted, so we can keep a positive relationship. There’s always a waiting list, so that’s important.”
Hudson joined Tri-County last year and resides with her husband, a nine-year-old stepson and 18-month-old son in Kansas City, North. When she’s not running Tri-County’s housing effort or running after one of the boys, she enjoys recreational running and is planning to enter a half marathon this spring. “I love to run and read,” she laughed. “It seems like I’m usually doing one or the other.”
She’s also no stranger to the challenges of homelessness. Hudson served previously as a housing specialist for Save, Inc. in Kansas City and worked in the field in California before moving back to the Midwest.
“Homelessness is a big issue,” she said. “For someone with a mental illness, it can be very difficult to escape. And it seems like there’s always more need than what we have help for, but we’re making progress.”