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BLOOMINGTON — A severe shortage of supportive housing for mentally ill residents of McLean County is the target of the McLean County Board's next initiative to improve living conditions for the vulnerable population.

Housing is one of five priorities outlined in the county's Mental Health Action Plan. Released in 2015 after more than a year of study by two advisory panels, the plan notes that the community needs to increase the number of supportive-housing beds from 84 to 184 to help chronically mentally ill individuals who frequently cycle through the criminal justice system. 

An estimated 54 beds are needed for chronically homeless people, according to the plan.

McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson told the McLean County Behavioral Health Cooordinating Council recently that the county is seeking a $200,000 housing grant from the Corporation For Supportive Housing. If successful, the county will use the money to expand its data sharing initiative to allow local agencies to obtain information on so-called "super utilizers" of community resources.

The CSH grant is a collaboration of the Social Innovation Fund and the John Arnold Foundation and aims to find long-term solutions for people who need support with their health and life issues.

The grant "really is the start-up and the end game. This doesn't end with data sharing," Wasson told the council of community and health care leaders.

Savings from the less frequent use of jails, emergency rooms and other expensive treatment venues could be put toward supportive housing under the CSH model, Wasson explained.

Laura Furlong, executive director of Marc First and a member of the League of Women Voters who served as co-chair of a housing study last year, called the funding effort "a breath of fresh air" that addresses the problems identified in the LWV report.

McLean County has several housing options that include regular visits by case managers who help monitor mental health appointments and other everyday needs but an eight-bed rooming house operated by the Center for Human Services represents the only fully supportive site with staff on-site 24/7. The McLean County jail's booking area fills the unmet housing need when mentally ill people — often homeless — lack mental health treatment.

The McLean County Board also is working with the University of Chicago to analyze data on "super utilizers" of criminal justice and mental health services. Assistance from the university is part of the county's participation in a national project on data driven justice. 

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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