Less than 50 years ago, individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities were often isolated in long-stay state institutions, sometimes for the entirety of their lives. There they were effectively quarantined from friends and family, with limited freedom and power. Today, the majority of these institutions have been closed across the country, due to the shift toward community-based care.
Today, there is less stigma toward those with disabilities and mental illnesses and less segregation. However, those individuals still face unique challenges. Housing, education, and employment are often more difficult for individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities, due to a lack of resources and community misunderstanding.
To address potential gaps in care, Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority’s Office for Peer-Participant Advocacy is contributing approximately $5,000 in mini-grants to consumers of community mental health services in Wayne County, through the George Gaines and Roberta Sanders Community Inclusion Fund. Financing for the grants were raised during DWMHA’s Community Inclusion Conference and Conversation hosted by Constituents’ Voice, an advisory group for service members.
The fund is intended to help awardees achieve their community inclusion goals. The awardees range in age from 19 to 59, and express a vast array of goals that will be made possible with the funding provided by DWMHA. Goals outlined by awardees included going to college, purchasing educational resources, gaining a driver’s license, attending speech therapy, and beginning micro enterprises. Many awardees expressed frustration over a string of failed funding attempts, disenfranchisement, or difficulty due to mental illness.
Robert Hall, a consumer of Adult Well-Being Services, was awarded $500 to purchase equipment to begin a hot snack sales business, Robert’s Hot Snacks. He plans to obtain the resources to rent booths at fairs, community events, and flea markets, to sell items like hot dogs and popcorn. “It will make me feel proud of myself to be a part of the community and show others how they can learn to own a business,” said Hall. “I will be able to teach others about my disability and show them that they don’t have to feel afraid of me. My ultimate goal is to hire some of my peers in the community and offer them jobs, someday. This grant will allow me to prove to myself, the community and my family, that I am able to work on my own and grow with help from them.”
DeAndre Jones, a consumer of Community Living Services on the autism spectrum, was awarded $500 to attend speech therapy classes. Through these classes, Jones will be able to communicate with individuals outside of his family, leading to increased confidence and independence, whether it is ordering a meal, greeting a stranger, or asking a question.
Camille Summerlin, 19, is receiving a $500 grant to assist with educational costs including a laptop computer, books, commuting, and supplies. Summerlin began experiencing emotional disturbances at age 14, when she “become disconnected from friends, family, school, church and life in general,” she said. Due to her emotional state, she did not graduate high school with her peers. Now she is returning to school for her Associate’s – something that will make her more competitive in the job market, despite prior setbacks. Summerlin has been in treatment through DWMHA for the past four years and explains that she is now better at concentrating, studying, facing challenges and coping with stressors in a healthy way. “Now believe I deserve to have a future,” she said.
All individuals deserve to feel like they have a future, including those with mental illnesses, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. That future ought to include enough agency and choice to make it a future worth having. DWMHA advocates the right to self-determination and the importance of community inclusion tirelessly, and we are proud to use the George Gaines and Roberta Sanders Community Inclusion Fund to empower the deserving individuals who were historically powerless.
If you or someone you know has questions or would like to receive services for a mental health concern, substance use, or intellectual/developmental disability, contact the Authority 24/7 at 800-241-4949 or