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Seattle Clubhouse offers community-based mental health assistance

Persistent mental illness is one of the top causes of homelessness, affecting an estimated 25 to 30 percent of those living on the streets.  But 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 towards local treatment.

That’s where Seattle Clubhouse comes in.  There are no membership dues, and the club is open to anyone with a history of mental illness.  Staffers work side-by-side with members on everything from daily chores and job-hunting to simple conversation.

Staff members like Ryan Likes even pick up club members when needed.

“Just look at how important belonging is to people.” Likes says. “It’s essential. Without meaningful relationships, we don’t work.”

It’s a philosophy shared by executive director Larry Clum.  He says the goal is to get people focusing on their abilities, rather than their disabilities.  And he says the program is working.

“Hospitalizations are decreased, incarceration is decreased, homelessness is decreased. All these wonderful outcomes just by having a community of peers of support.”  Clum explains. “You walk in here, you don’t feel like a client – you feel like a person.”

Club members agree. T.Y. is the self-declared mayor of Pioneer Square, who’s battled homelessness and depression for years.  At the clubhouse, he turns chef, whipping up his famous fried chicken for lunch.

“The clubhouse is wonderful.” T.Y. says. “It gives me a sense of purpose. [I’ve] met some real good people here.”

The Seattle Clubhouse has been relying on donations to get off the ground.  Organizers say it cost about $70 per person, per day – which is a lot less than it costs to put someone in jail.  A full year of clubhouse treatment costs less than two weeks in the hospital – and while the clubhouses don’t directly get people off the streets, organizers say the program has a good track record of getting folks on their feet and keeping them from slipping back into homelessness or jail.

You can read more about the program here.