New mental health program hopes to curb homelessness in Seattle

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SEATTLE– The tan Seattle Clubhouse van rumbles to life with the turn of the key. Ryan Likes is at the helm. He’s a staff member for the mental health program returning to the Emerald City.

“One of the building blocks of Clubhouse is that everyone has something to contribute,” says Likes. “Just look at how important belonging is to people. And it’s essential. Without meaningful relationships we don’t function.”

Data pix.

Seattle Clubhouse is a club that has no dues and anyone with a history of mental illness is welcome. On this day, we're picking up two of the clubs' members. Janet and T.Y.

"He's the self-proclaimed mayor of Pioneer Square," says Likes driving through downtown traffic. "He's always down by Yesler and 1st near the pergola."

Seattle Clubhouse is part of a growing trend. After decades of locking people away in mental hospitals or de-funding mental health in the 1980s and pushing the problem to our streets. The pendulum is swinging back again towards treating mental illness locally.

"You walk in here, and you don't feel like a client," says Larry Clum. "You feel like a person." Clum is Executive Director here, but he and his team work side-by-side with members. Whether just chatting or looking for jobs-- this is a rehabilitative  program for those with persistent mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders.

"What it provides for folks, is to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities," says Clum.

Chores here are doled out in the morning meeting. Today, T.Y. is making lunch for everyone. It's his famous fried chicken.

"It's cooking evenly," he says as he mans the frying pan. He's been in and out of homelessness, batting depression for decades.

"This clubhouse is wonderful," says T.Y. "It gives me a sense of purpose. I've met some real good people here."

Clubhouse Seattle is a concept that's succeeded in many other places-- and even in a Bellevue location that's been operating for 12 years. Right now they've relied on donor dollars to get this Seattle chapter off the ground.

"Hospitalization are decreased. Incarceration is decreased. Homelessness is decreased," says Clum. "All these wonderful outcomes just by having a community of peers of support."

For a mental health program like Clubhouse Seattle, it costs about 70 dollars per member, per day. That's far less than the costs of criminal incarceration. And for a year of Clubhouse Seattle treatment is less than a two week hospital stay. So in many ways, this program can pay for itself in cost savings to a community.

"People are finally recognizing there's a need for communities of care," says Clum. "In the communities they serve."

And more clubhouses could be on the horizon for places like North Seattle, Everett, Burien, Tacoma and many more. And while they don't directly get people on the streets-- these kind of connections have a strong track record of keeping people from slipping back into being homeless or in jail.

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