United Way helps Peer Support programs

Editor’s note: This is the next in a series of articles about the member agencies of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

PARKERSBURG – With the help of the community and the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Peer Support has been able to help adults with mental illness for two decades.

Since 1994, Peer Support has offered a number of programs and a network of supports, including a housing program on 19th Street and a drop-in center on Emerson Avenue, to help adults with mental illnesses overcome obstacles and develop community living skills.

In the past 15 years, more than 200 people have lived in housing offered at Peer Support’s Victory Memorial, the Carriage House and William Manor on 19th Street. Roughly 400 people have participated in activities at the drop-in center, at 4200 Emerson Ave., said Karen Anderson, executive director.

The live-in facilities give Peer Support the ability to offer up to 19 people housing and support.

“We help them learn how to take responsibility for their mental illness and learn how to handle themselves in the community through our programs,” Anderson said. “It is a great program and has helped a lot of people in the last 20 years.”

Those who use the Peer Support program come to the agency through a hospital, mental illness facility or from the streets, Anderson said.

“A lot of the people we help come to us from under a bridge,” she said. “Really, they are all homeless when they come to us and we help them the best we can.”

For the past five years, Peer Support has received $6,000 annually from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley to be used for operating funds, but typically goes to the salary of the organization’s housing director, Inda Robinson.

“The majority of the funding we receive from the United Way goes to operational fees, which allows us to exist,” Anderson said.

Peer Support became a United Way agency in 2009 when new roofs were needed on three of the organization’s 19th Street houses.

“The United Way has been spectacular with us and is always willing to help with our needs,” said Anderson.

Peer Support, which is funded through grants and donations along with the United Way, operates three facilities to meet housing needs. These include: Victory Memorial, at 1517 19th St., houses nine people, while the Carriage House, built directly behind Victory Memorial in 2000, includes four more beds and an office. William Manor, located down the street, offers space for six more people.

Residents in the supportive housing program, overseen by Robinson, receive assistance and training on how to give and receive support, overcome obstacles of living with a mental illness and develop living skills that include cleaning, budgeting, planning meals and taking care of themselves. To live in supportive housing, residents must complete 25 hours a week of positive recovery activity.

“We try to help them with everything we can,” Anderson said. “This means going to school, getting a job, working and volunteering; we want to help them be and do whatever they want.”

Residents also pay a small monthly utility fee and $375 program fee. They are also required to have a mental health care provider, take their medications and keep their appointments.

“Some people live here just a couple months and move on to more permanent housing or to live with family while others stay longer,” said Anderson. “We’ve had one woman who has lived here more than 11 years and this is what works for her.”

The drop-in center is open from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

The center includes a kitchen, ping pong and pool tables, basketball hoop, computer lab and other amenities. The drop-in center also provides a place for members to socialize, cook meals and hold peer support groups along with other activities.

“It’s a program run for and by peers,” said Anderson. “These programs work because people with mental illness are not alone here. They are living with and talking to others who have been through the same struggles. It’s a supportive community.”