NAMI Collier helps the homeless find homes and settles into a new home of its own.
Ruthnie was living in her car in February 2022 following a stay at a women’s shelter to flee an abusive relationship. While she could find employment easily, she struggled to keep jobs because of difficulty maintaining a schedule, sleeping, safety and hygiene while being homeless.
Ruthnie found her way to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Collier County’s Sarah Ann Center, where she was able to shower, eat, do laundry and connect with other resources. She was able to park her car there for a safe place to sleep. She was able to stay in air-conditioning in the center’s lounge during the day.
“When I was living in my car, I was crying every night,” Ruthnie said. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was going to McDonalds and doing bird baths in the restroom. I was spending money and wasn’t able to save. I felt like it wasn’t going to end. At one point I got real, real, real depressed and got Baker Acted.”
In addition to offering basic services to support the homeless, the Sara Ann Center is a safe, welcoming daily drop-in center for anyone over the age of 18 with a mental health diagnosis. It offers daily support groups, outings to encourage socialization and community engagement, daily lunch and activities to enrich the quality of life for members.
At the center, Ruthnie connected with NAMI Collier’s Supportive Housing and Employment program and MaryKay Flood, her housing and employment specialist, who helped her find her home and helps ensure she can pay her bills and stay well. Flood is also helping her with investments and to get car repairs.
Supportive Housing helps people with mental illnesses overcome the barriers and challenges of homelessness to work on recovery and wellness. NAMI’s Supportive Housing Specialist works with participants to find a secure home, work toward employment and engage local resources for community-based living. Since July 2022, NAMI has served 107 adults and 31 children with supportive housing. The need is so great that NAMI Collier has a waiting list of participants it could serve if it had more funding.
At first, Ruthnie stayed in a hotel while searching for an affordable home that would meet her needs. On Sept. 1, NAMI Collier County found a place for her with a room for her 15-year-old son, so she could have him with her at times. With the support of government and private grants and donations, NAMI Collier County pays an average of about $1,000 a month for her housing assistance, and Ruthnie pays $332.
Since she moved in, she has found steady employment as a caretaker at a local assisted living center with a part-time job at a retail store to earn extra income.
“I was in a dark place and NAMI pulled me out from the darkness and showed me the light,” Ruthnie says. “I pray to God every single night, and I can’t stop saying thank you. I’m thankful to have a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head. I’m at peace.”
NAMI Collier is part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness network that includes the national and state organizations and is unique in that it is the only NAMI in the country to be accredited by the Council on Accreditation. NAMI Collier provides more programs and services for children 3 months old through seniors than is typical of most local NAMI organizations, with many unique to NAMI Collier.
“NAMI Collier helps people and families navigate the complex mental health system,” says Beth Hatch, CEO of NAMI Collier County. “We offer unique, nonclinical programs and support groups that focus on wellness and personal recovery journeys. Our goal is to recognize the whole person and not just their diagnosis.”
NAMI Collier’s free programs in addition to the Sara Ann Center and Supportive Housing include:
- Support groups for members and their families and caregivers and include groups for recovery skills, hearing voices and seeing things, DBT peer-run skills training and NAMI Connection, a recovery support group for adults living with various mental illnesses.
- Health Under Guided Systems (H.U.G.S.), supported by the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, responds to the complex needs of children at risk of or with behavioral health problems in Collier County. The program provides English, Spanish and Creole universal screenings, parenting classes and family support, and facilitates referrals for early identification and access to care.
- Florida Self-Directed Care (SDC) allows program participants to make their own healthcare choices and actively participate in their recovery from serious mental illnesses. Life Coaches assist participants establish measurable recovery goals. SDC serves 90 people each year.
- CLEAR: Clearing the Way for Change in Florida is a peer-run service for any individual in search of connecting with someone who has lived experience in mental health recovery. The service is available state-wide from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and receives more than 400 calls per month.
Until this year, NAMI’s programs were held in several rented spaces, with the administration offices in a building on the other side of town. In March, NAMI moved into a new home of its own, leasing the former location of the Naples Senior Center at 5025 Costello Drive. The move brings all programs under one roof, providing the ability to expand programs and seamlessly expose members to the services and programs available.
With roots dating to 1987, NAMI Collier County remains a nonprofit dedicated to helping people navigate their mental health journey through an array of programs.
This news release was featured in: