The establishment of a home in Lebanon City for three transition-aged youth with disabilities was announced Wednesday, March 6, at a workshop session of the Lebanon County Commissioners.  

Holly Leahy, administrator of Lebanon County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention (MH/ID/EI) and Karen Raugh, executive director of the Lebanon County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, presented the proposal to the commissioners. The home is located on North 12th Street and comes with a projected cost of $446,448.

The project, to be paid through capital funding from the state Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), will provide housing and support services for young adults aged 18 to 24 who have been diagnosed with mental health disabilities and have a history of substance abuse. 

“Lebanon County is experiencing a greater number of transition-aged youth, those would be youth ages 18 to 24, identified with serious mental illness as well as substance abuse histories that lack housing support to be successful in the community setting,” said Leahy.

Leahy said these youths will come from a variety of treatment programs that, upon completion, would otherwise leave them with nowhere to live. 

“Those identified are in desperate need of a combination of housing, services, and support that will lead to greater independence and success,” added Leahy.

There will be a rigorous vetting process prior to admission.

“Referrals can come from anywhere within the system. When we look at those referrals they could come from juvenile probation, the children and youth system, schools, service providers, our CASSP (Child and Adolescent Social Services Program) coordinator through her reviews,” said Leahy.

“There’s also a complex case team that reviews Transition HQ. So, honestly we can take referrals from any of those but there will really be an extensive vetting process to really review.”

The admission vetting process will include individual interviews.

“We’ll individually meet with the individuals, kind of see what their history has been, their current behavior,” said Leahy. “Through that interview process, then determine whether or not they will be a good candidate for the project, for the housing and the support services, but then also whether they’ll really work within that structure with other individuals in the home. So we’ll really go through that process.”

Leahy said the county was approved for the funding in October 2022, but needed to develop specific housing and sustainability plans since the OMHSAS funding only covers capital improvement projects, not ongoing costs. 

Renovations for the home on North 12th Street are projected to cost between $375,000 to $400,000, with the balance of the funding being used to provide furnishings for the property. Project funding is coming from existing sources that are being repurposed, added Leahy.

“In working with our stakeholder groups, we very quickly identified the need for housing for the transition-aged youth population,” said Leahy, “and we were able to really develop the specified housing project and the support services that would be needed.” 

Leahy said the housing is transitional with program participants residing between 12 and 18 months.

“That 18 to 24 (age) population is a really tricky population. They may or may not have applied for medical systems or Social Security income,” said Leahy. “They may or may not have a job. There are so many different things. So we see this as a great opportunity for that housing support case manager to work with the individual. So that’s why it’s transitional from 12 to 18 months to allow for them to search for a job, to get a job within a certain amount of months so that they can begin paying rent.”

While employment will not initially be a condition for admission, applicants will have to demonstrate an income stream.

“What we’ll be doing is encouraging them,” said Leahy to the commissioners. “Individuals who have Social Security income can also work up to a certain amount of hours, so we will be encouraging them to apply for jobs and to obtain employment in addition to their Social Security income so that they would have additional income coming in.”

Leahy noted that Social Security income alone is usually insufficient to cover rent in today’s housing market.

“Recognizing that rent is pretty costly and most individuals who are just drawing down Social Security income, it’s not enough for individuals to obtain an apartment, even a one-bedroom apartment just for themselves really isn’t sustainable on straight Social Security income,” said Leahy. “So we’ll be working really hard with the individuals, the residents that will be in that home to help them really understand finances better, to learn those independent living skills that are really going to carry them through the rest of their lives.”

Residents will be responsible for up to 30 percent of the rent with MH/ID/EI funding covering the balance, which will be remitted to the Lebanon Housing Authority since that entity owns the home. Additionally, the mental health department will also find a care provider for the housing support case manager position.

“We really see that position as something they can kind of maybe flex their hours a little bit to make sure that they’re able to really serve as a resource for the youth that will be there to help them learn those skills, to help get them to their appointments, to learn the bus system, to learn how to be independent in our community, but then also to learn how to be a good renter,” said Leahy. “What does it look like to be able to obtain that housing but then also to maintain it, to do your own laundry, to cook, to clean, to do your own medication, to do all of those things that really is what folks do on a daily basis to be successful.”

County commissioner chairman Bob Phillips called it a “costly per person endeavor” and stated he wished more residents could live there given the size of the home.

“Well, it’s also an unlicensed program, so you can have three or less in an unlicensed program,” said Leahy. “If we were licensing that program, it would probably take us a year till we get through the licensing and you know we’d have to have some really strict regulations that would go along with that.”

Leahy added that although the number is three residents, it is like having 10 since these individuals lack the soft skills to live independently. “Three transition-aged youth who haven’t learned those skills by the point of age 18 have a lot to learn and that’s why most times they really do struggle in our community as independent,” added Leahy. 

The home will have three bedrooms with locks for individual security of personal belongings, three individual bathrooms, a kitchen and communal area that will serve as a living room.

“This is really in an effort also to help them learn those social skills to work with one another,” said Leahy. “Because they may or may not move into (together). Maybe they’ll choose to move in together to an apartment and work together. And we also see that our transition-age youth often have difficulties with social skills, so this will help them to have more social interaction to learn conflict resolution, those things that sometimes they haven’t learned before going out on their own independently.”

County commissioner Jo Ellen Litz inquired about overnight security and onsite personnel. Leahy said there will not be an awake overnight supervisor at the home.

“We’ll have some rules for the home,” said Leahy. “There won’t be any overnight guests, they can’t use any substances while they’re there, so there will definitely be some rules for the home and they’ll need to sign an agreement agreeing to those rules which would be for any housing that you go into there’s always rules as to what you need to abide to.”

At the start of the program, co-ed living will also be prohibited. 

“We initially will not be doing any type of co-ed — we do not envision it as co-ed similar to the Forensic Housing project. We started out with males and then at a certain point we switched to females but we do not envision co-ed at this point,” said Leahy.

This is the third of three housing projects created by the county’s mental health department. Leahy said there is the project known as Forensic Housing, which is located behind the department’s offices on Lehman Street, and the highly successful and filled-to-capacity Fairweather Lodge on Cumberland Street, which is also for adults ages 18 and older.

“We did a lot of research into other counties and their Fairweather lodges, how they were structured. Again, we really took a look at the challenges, the barriers, and their successes before we actually initiated the Fairweather Lodge in Lebanon County,” said Leahy. “It is permanent supportive housing, but it is the same structure. It is locked bedrooms with a communal living space and it is for six individuals. They really determine the house budget, what the cleaning schedule is going to be, they have meals together, and they have house meetings, it has been successful.” 

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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