Our House is designed to be a safe, home-like environment for Broome County residents experiencing mental health crisis or emotional distress. When walking through the door and into the welcome area a guest is likely to meet Co-Director of Our House, Emily Childress. Her open demeanor and warmth reflects what one can feel throughout the entire house. An alternative to hospitalization, Our House is a voluntary, peer-run, short-term crisis respite. “It is an extremely exciting and long anticipated program,” Childress explains. Individuals can self-refer to Our House but must call ahead of time to pre-register.
A typical stay at Our House is three to five days. Guests each have their own bedroom, are responsible for their own medications, which are kept in a locked drawer in their room, and must cook and clean up after themselves. Our House addresses crisis differently from a hospital setting, blending traditional and non-traditional tools. Guests are encouraged to continue to see their therapist, take their medications, and visit any other caregivers while staying at Our House. They also have a menu of services to choose from during their stay that include: peer support and engagement, recovery and wellness education, solution planning, wellness activities, and connections to community resources.
Our House uses Shery Mead’s approach to recovery called Intentional Peer Support. This support depends on the use of staff known as Recovery Specialists. These specialists are trained peers, meaning they have experience with crisis such as mental health diagnosis, chemical dependency, or domestic violence, from either their own or that of a family member. This helps the Recovery Specialists through to relate to the guests that stay in the house enabling them to share their story of recovery and model wellness. Each Recovery Specialist holds a certificate as a New York State Peer Specialist through the New York State Office of Mental Health. There are two Recovery Specialists on duty at Our House 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.
Intentional Peer Support revolves around having dialogues that happen organically so that guests learn how to work through their crisis in a healthy way. The directors have created many opportunities for these conversations to happen at Our House. After checking in at the welcome desk guests enter an inviting living room with a relaxing color scheme and a big comfortable couch and chair. Upstairs, in addition to single occupancy guest bedrooms, there is an open community room painted in a calming shade of pale yellow. Stocked with board games, puzzles, art supplies, musical instruments and a video gaming station this room has something for everyone. These items aren’t just meant for entertainment, however, while sitting down and playing a board game or creating a piece of art, guests and Recovery Specialists have the opportunity to form relationships and have meaningful conversations. Childress sums this idea up with one of her favorite sayings about this type of support, “you can say to a peer in two minutes what it takes to say to a therapist in two years.” Recovery specialists also help to connect guests to resources in the community, both health related and clubs or social events that may be of interest to keep them active once they return to their homes.
The Recovery Specialists work with the guests of Our House to use WRAP, the wellness recovery action plan, a prevention and wellness process that anyone can use. This action plan helps individuals learn to identify their triggers and how to avoid crisis. In addition, the individual creates a plan for what should happen if they find themselves in a crisis. They identify who should be called, what medications they can and cannot take, and where they pets should go. The plan also covers more minute components of care such as whether or not an ambulance transporting them should use sirens. Recovery Specialists also teach them to advocate for their care by practicing how to talk to their care providers and preparing for medical appointments.
Our House is modeled after Rose House, a program of PEOPLe, Inc. Running for two decades, Rose House has grown to five short-term crisis respites in the Hudson Valley Area of New York State, showing the success and demand for this model. The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) reported in their February 2017 Newsletter that “inpatient psychiatric costs accounted for nearly half of the total spending on public mental health services.” Peer-run respite houses like these are reducing hospital admissions and allowing would-be patients to continue to stay in their community while learning wellness tools and behaviors from their peers. “Individual experiences are unique,” says Childress, and that understanding is what makes Our House a viable alternative for community members in crisis.