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updated: 6/19/2012 12:09 AM

Panelists discuss need for more housing for mentally ill

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Experts from around the Northwest suburbs joined with people battling mental illness in a panel discussion in Wheeling on Monday night to explain the need for more housing options in the area.

The forum, planned by the North/Northwest Suburban Task Force on Supportive Housing for Individuals with Mental Illness, discussed the prevalence of mental illness in the suburbs and the way supportive housing can help people move toward recovery.

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"Mental illness is not a death sentence," said Joe Novak, director of mental health at Northwest Community Hospital. "Some solutions are as simple as having a roof over your head."

Current patients living in supportive housing said their placement has helped their self-confidence and self-worth and has provided them with a community of people with similar issues.

"When mental illness is treated and they get the right support and the right services, these people can recover and live prosperous lives," Novak said.

About a dozen community members came to the forum to listen to the presentations and ask questions about the best methods for housing and recovery, which the experts said is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

The forum in Wheeling comes as the village board prepares to reconsider the Philhaven project, a housing development for people with mental and physical disabilities, which has created controversy in the community because of the residents who would occupy the building as well as concerns about flooding and parking. The board rejected Philhaven without discussion last month, but a resubmitted proposal with minor changes was passed by the plan commission last week.

Philhaven would be a permanent supportive housing complex for people who would be able to live independently. Although the board rejected a variance to allow case managers offices to provide services on site, those services could still be delivered to residents in their homes, said Mitch Bruski, CEO of the Kenneth Young Center, the nonprofit agency partnering with Daveri Development LLC., for the Philhaven project.

The Wheeling village board could reconsider the Philhaven project later this month.

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