May 10, 2023

Progress Towards Community Inclusion

Marc Craig, President

As a leading provider of affordable housing solutions for people across Michigan, Community Housing Network has seen firsthand the effects of institutionalization and the need for community-based solutions. 

In this post, CHN President Marc Craig shares insights about the history of institutionalization and its current state in Michigan, as well as how our organization is working to help individuals with physical and mental health challenges find stable housing and support within their communities. 

We hope this post will shed light on the importance of community-based solutions and the ongoing need for advocacy and support for individuals, including those with mental health challenges.

As we observe May as Mental Health Awareness month, it is important to reflect on Michigan’s history and the closure of state-operated institutions for people with disabilities, a chapter that still resonates with us today. At Community Housing Network (CHN), our mission is to promote safe and affordable housing for all, and the closure of these institutions was a key part of that movement.

In the early 1990s, Michigan began closing all of its institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as part of a sweeping bipartisan agenda known as “community placement.” The state became the ninth in the U.S. to close all of its institutions for people with disabilities in 2009. This was a major milestone in the movement to deinstitutionalize individuals with disabilities and represented a shift in policy from traditional Medicaid funding to Home- and Community-Based Services, which still requires waivers from the federal government.

Olmstead creates a path toward “deinstitutionalization

The U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Olmstead v. L.C., issued on June 22, 1999, ruled that the unjustified institutional isolation of individuals with disabilities is a form of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision mandated that individuals with disabilities have the right to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs and required that people with disabilities live in the least restrictive possible setting. This decision prompted many states to adopt “deinstitutionalization” and create community-based services. 

Mental health and deinstitutionalization on a different path 

While Michigan did a good job at planning and funding the move for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to the community, the story of community placement for people with mental illness was a different one. The closure of institutions for people with mental illness has always lagged behind in funding, effort, and political will. 

Reflecting on personal experience, I remember my grandfather taking me to visit his brother Lamar at Eloise on Michigan Avenue — a state hospital/poor house where Lamar had been sent to live due to his tendency to become confused and his inability to work consistently to support himself. When I saw him, Lamar sat on the edge of a bunk bed that was in a large room full of bunk beds. He was wearing coveralls, and had just finished working on the farm that was on the property. He seemed like a gentle man who had accepted his life as a resident of a state institution. He was not permitted to leave and never did.

The Kay Beard Building is one of the remaining structures of the once-sprawling Eloise Psychiatric Hospital.

When Lamar passed away, he was buried on a family plot, unlike the 7,000 deceased residents who were buried on the sprawling property where they had lived. The institution was finally closed (due to cost), and now it is being used as a destination for visitors, featuring an escape room and a haunted attraction offering paranormal tours. A new development, including a restaurant and hotel, is now being proposed, with a subsidy from the state to remove contaminated soil. 

Having witnessed the experience of a loved one living in a state institution, I’m troubled by what has become of these places. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the lives that were spent there and how people like Lamar could have lived much richer lives with support in the community. Sadly, stories like this continue to take place in our country and around the world. Despite the lessons we’ve learned from our history, some still advocate for a return to institutional forms of care.

We advocate for the rights of people with disabilities

At Community Housing Network, we play a crucial role in helping people with mental health challenges find stable housing, address their mental health issues, and build vital lives within their communities. Our housing resource center offers a range of supports, including healthcare and mental health treatment, education, employment, financial stability, and community support systems. By taking a comprehensive approach, we have helped hundreds of individuals with mental health challenges achieve success and stability in their lives.

We should celebrate the impact that our organization and others like us have on people’s lives, but we must not forget our history and the work that still needs to be done. At CHN, we are committed to advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and pushing for increased funding, effort, and political will to achieve community integration and equitable housing. 

As we carry on with our mission, we honor the memories of those who lived in institutions and work towards creating opportunities for everyone to live their fullest life in their community. 
To learn more about how to get involved with CHN’s mission, please visit: