Tiny homes part of effort to battle homelessness for people with mental illness

CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- On the last day of Mental Health Month, ABC11 highlights an uplifting story about a real grassroots effort to help people with mental illness.

Construction is underway on the Tiny Home Village at the Farm at Penny Road for the mentally ill in Chatham County.

"Affordable housing is a major driver of homelessness for many people and especially people with serious mental illness," said Amy Blank Wilson with UNC's School of Social Work.

Thanks to her and the school's public-private partnership, there's a glimmer of hope in Chatham County between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro.

It's called the Tiny Homes Village at the Farm at Penny Lane.

Heavy equipment is still clearing ground at the old farm site.

But a model tiny home has already been constructed and in the next year 14 more will join it according to Blank Wilson who said, "We're going to provide proof of concept that tiny homes can be used as a form of affordable housing for people with serious mental illness."

The partnership also involved XDS or Cross Disability Services, a nonprofit that owns the development.

"We have taken on the additional challenge of building the homes within the context of a community that is going to be designed to support people's health and well-being," Blank Wilson said.

The village will also have a clubhouse and outdoor space.

That will go hand-in-hand with providing services for the residents to help them deal with their mental health issues.

Recently joining the effort is another nonprofit, Alliance Health according to its spokesperson, Doug Fuller.

"We really do believe that housing is a healthcare intervention. It's very foundational to people's recovery from behavioral illness," Fuller said.

Alliance is chipping in $100,000 which will cover the cost of two of the tiny homes.

And Fuller noted, "It's particularly apropos that we would make this investment during Mental Health Month of May."

But Fuller said Alliance's contributions to the tiny home village won't end there.

Its workers will volunteer to help build the homes which are expected to be available to the first residents in the summer of next year.

A sign at the development reads "tiny house, BIG IDEA."

We may soon find out whether this 'big idea" in Chatham County, providing housing for the homeless accompanied by mental health services, may help solve a nationwide problem.
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