ATLANTA (Aug. 2, 2007) -- It is for people like Dianne that Atlanta Partner Stan Jones works the hardest in his volunteer roles.
Bipolar and on drugs, she was in and out of hospitals, eventually finding herself jobless and homeless. But with the help of Project Interconnections, "I made my mind up to try life again a different way."
The housing program Mr. Jones helped found provided her a secure place to live with dignity and respect. Now two years clean, she recently spoke out at a reception honoring Mr. Jones on how the model program helped her get her life on track.
"It has changed my life tremendously. Now I have goals, and I want to give back to the community," she told a group gathered in Atlanta to honor Mr. Jones as the program’s founding president.
Honorary Chairperson and Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter presented Mr. Jones with a friendship quilt and proclamation from the city of Atlanta for his 20 years of service to the housing program. She calls the project a model for the country.
"We can all tell by the 241 men and women who live in the four residences how great this program is. It provides them security and dignity, privacy and respect. They have help when they need a helping hand, and this is what makes our program so effective," she said.
Project Interconnections has developed four award-winning residences in Atlanta, including O’Hern House with 76 single room units and meals; Phoenix House with studio apartments and several two-to-four bedroom apartments for 79 people; Presley Woods with 40 studio apartments, 20 for the working poor and 20 for homeless adults with chronic mental illness; and Rosalynn Apartments, 56 studio apartments.
The projects have housed more than 800 people, who use the program as a stepping-stone into the community, Mrs. Carter said. Developing the residences required creating partnerships of public and private sectors to seek funding through state and federal programs. Rent comes from federal assistance programs and from the residents themselves, who pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. The cost is between $11,000 and $16,000 a year per resident.
Mr. Jones first became involved in mental health issues and the Carters when they asked him to serve on the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services for Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped Georgians in 1971, his first job out of college. Later they asked him to serve on the President’s Commission on Mental Illness. He has served as chairman of the Georgia Commission on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Service Delivery, and as vice president for Public Policy of the National Mental Health Association.
"Our jobs are to tear down the walls of stigma surrounding mental illness and to tear down the walls of the hospitals," Mr. Jones said. "Our medications are better, our resources are better, but our jobs are still huge."
Recent newspaper articles on deaths in Georgia’s state hospitals are leading to a new state commission on mental health and substance abuse. Mr. Jones wrote the authorizing legislation and has testified about the intense need for improvement in all the state systems that help citizens who suffer from mental illness.
"Stan is one of our country’s most compassionate and dedicated champions of people with mental illness, and he had a vision for a new way to provide support for people with mental illness. So many people told him it couldn’t be done, but he thought it could, and he pressed on with it. Without any paid staff he led the board and us in developing our first residence, which is now 17 years old," Mrs. Carter said.
"He’s been especially effective in communicating mental health issues to our state’s policy makers. He speaks from his heart on behalf of people with mental illness," she said.