SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate passed a bill Wednesday which would create a new housing program for individuals living with mental illness or substance use disorders.
House Bill 449 creates the “Housing is Recovery Pilot Program Act,” a new program which would offer bridge rental subsidies to individuals at high risk for “unnecessary institutionalization” due to mental illness, or those at high risk of overdose or death due to substance abuse.
The bill, which is subject to appropriations, has already passed the House and needs only a signature from the governor to become law.
Chief Senate sponsor Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat, said in a Wednesday statement the bill will “help break the cycle of institutionalization for those struggling with mental health issues and addiction.”
“Thousands of people with mental illness or substance use disorders are at risk for unnecessary institutionalization, whether it be hospitalization or incarceration,” Castro added. “This legislation will provide those struggling with a way to get back on their feet without institutionalization.”
In order to qualify for the program, individuals must be currently enrolled or eligible to enroll in Medicaid for the purposes of receiving treatment for mental health or substance abuse disorders.
If approved to receive a bridge rental subsidy, individuals would be responsible for contributing 30 percent of their own income toward the cost of rent. The program would be administered by the state’s Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health.
The bill would also establish a plan and materials to educate landlords on the program to reduce stigma or hesitation to participating in the program.
The bill also states the tenant participating in the program must “agree to engagement services initiated by the supported housing provider, the Community Mental Health Center or contracted mental health or substance use treatment provider at least two times a month.” One of those must be a home visit, but a clinic visit is not required.
During debate on the bill, Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican, questioned whether the language was strong enough in requiring treatment, arguing that it could open the door to individuals abusing the program.
“Why wouldn’t we or should we require that these individuals, if we’re going to be giving them housing, that these individuals get treatment or be required to be in treatment or be reporting to some program?” Syverson asked.
Castro responded that individuals affected by mental health or substance abuse disorders would be required to “engage with a mental health provider” to participate and be willing to take part in the program.
“These are folks who are homeless, have nowhere to go, who need help, who need the guidance to address their substance issue. They have to engage,” Castro said. “This is not free housing, they have to be willing to engage whether it’s with a substance abuse person or mental health counselor, they have to be willing to have the help.”
Syverson also questioned the bill’s lack of deadlines, which he argued would essentially allow individuals to participate in the program “indefinitely.”
“There’s nothing that says this is a bridge until they can get something going or until they can get into some treatment or something,” Syverson added.
Castro argued that without any sort of support through consistent, affordable housing, individuals living with mental health issues or substance use disorders would continue to “re-cycle” through homelessness or incarceration.
The bill passed the Senate by a 38-15 vote.