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Tackling the link between housing and mental health, Fairfield County nonprofits join forces

Linda Autore, president and CEO of Laurel House, offering housing assistance to people experiencing mental illness, speaks to an attendee after a mental health panel held with several nonprofit organizations at Christ & Holy Trinity Church in Westport, Connecticut June 21, 2024.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
Linda Autore, president and CEO of Laurel House, offering housing assistance to people experiencing mental illness, speaks to an attendee after a mental health panel held with several nonprofit organizations at Christ & Holy Trinity Church in Westport, Connecticut June 21, 2024.

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Getting out of homelessness is hard enough, and staying out of it can be just as difficult, but it can be done.

That’s according to Linda Autore, the CEO and president of Laurel House, which offers housing assistance for people suffering from housing insecurity and dealing with mental illness.

“Sometimes people come to us who are in real distress, and so we remediate from that and help them build the skills they need to cope and just maintain daily living,” Autore said.

Finding mental health care and housing is possible, provided someone knows where to look for help, which Autore says even other nonprofits struggle to navigate. She was one of several speakers at a recent mental health panel hosted by the Housing Collective in Westport, which aimed to connect nonprofits with other resources from medical providers.

How housing insecurity affects mental health

The need continues to increase for wrap-around services addressing the links between housing insecurity and mental illness, according to local nonprofit leaders.

Last year, an analysis of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data showed a greater share of the homeless population now suffers from severe mental illness, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a 2020 study published in the journal BJPsych Bulletin, people with mental illness are not more likely to experience homelessness compared to the general population, but homelessness can exacerbate mental health issues. Suicides are more likely within the homeless population and poverty can cause and exacerbate anxiety and depression.

Building awareness of housing and health services available in Fairfield County, where home prices have increased by nearly one-third since 2020 and rents are up an average of 22%, is increasingly important.

“We have the same problem that anybody in the state of Connecticut has right now, that the cost of living and just the lack of an inventory, an appropriate inventory, of apartments,” Autore said.

Groups like Autore's Laurel House also help people experiencing homelessness or facing housing insecurity by connecting them to apartments accepting Section 8 vouchers, which she says are in short supply.

Building community

Several nonprofits in Fairfield County said they’ve faced difficulty connecting clients with referrals to meet their needs. That's something Jessica Kubicki, the chief innovation officer at the Housing Collective, a housing advocacy group based in Bridgeport, is trying to address.

“That's why we focused on networking before the event and after the event,” Kubicki said. “Over the last couple years [we heard of] clients struggling when they're already in housing with their mental health, and providers feeling like they didn't know which [housing] resources to tap into."

Find resources in Fairfield County: 

  • Norwalk Community Health Center- Nonprofit health care facility providing affordable medical care for the uninsured, which also accepts patients with insurance.
  • Bridge House - Bridgeport-based organization providing a variety of services for people suffering from mental illness, including housing support.
  • Laurel House - Stamford-based organization providing a variety of services for people suffering from mental illness, including housing support.

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