While many already know that Prairie View Behavioral Healthcare in Newton focuses on mental health, Director of Adult Residential Services for Prairie View Brad Schmidt said some are unaware that the center offers a wide range of other services to the community.

Some of those services include assistance with housing, vocational services, various skill-development courses and an in-house one-on-one day school – for children who have severe or persistent mental illness or have proven to be unsuccessful in their traditional classrooms.

While managing Prairie View's housing assistance programs, one of Schmidt's tasks is to connect the center's clients to affordable housing through community-based programs, which assist people with their monthly rental costs.

Schmidt said the behavioral health care center also has a shared living program – a community-based semi-independent living program, where people who need the structure of living with other people can go and learn to be successful outside of the larger institution.

In addition, Schmidt said Prairie View also has a strong program for homeless individuals with mental illness, which can help them with their rental costs and their housing startup – as well as supportive services to keep them from returning to homelessness.

Prairie View also has flexible subsidy programs that Schmidt said can be used to help people if they are behind on rent.

While Schmidt manages said housing programs, he also acts as a primary contact and resource for those who need help with housing or with its related issues.

Aside from acting as an intake contact for Prairie View's housing resources, Schmidt said he often connects those who call with various other resources throughout the community, such as (but not limited to) protection from domestic abuse.

Schmidt said he began working in the mental health field in 1988. At that time, he worked as a mental health worker at a 24-hour-staffed, seven-day-a-week facility called Meadowlark Homestead.

After working there for a few of years, Schmidt said he was presented with the opportunity to become director of the program, as well as to manage a couple of community-based locations that Meadowlark was operating at that time. He seized those opportunities.

Schmidt has now spent roughly 27 years in the field of mental health.

Meadowlark merged with Prairie View in 2002 and Meadowlark then transferred over its vocational and housing programs, which Schmidt said have continued operating since the merger.

Schmidt believes that Prairie View is unique in the way it approaches housing for those with mental illnesses.

Every county in the state is covered by a community mental health center and every county deals with housing issues differently, Schmidt said. Larger mental health centers, typically in urban areas, such as Wichita, Kansas City or Topeka, have a much more organized and structured approach to addressing their clients housing needs than some of the smaller community mental health centers.

Newton's Prairie View falls somewhere in the middle of that, as it is not a large urban center, but is not in an isolated rural area. Schmidt said Newton does have issues of homelessness and those living in substandard housing, but there are also those who have been successfully housed and are doing well or now own their own homes.

Two areas Schmidt has focused on most recently are housing affordability and fair housing – which is really important when working with populations of people who have limitations regarding housing and the housing options.

Most people he works with, out of the community support program, receive about $755 a month in total income, while some have more and some have zero income.

"With rents going for sometimes $400, with no utilities paid, on up to $550 and up with all utilities paid, that just leaves very little money at the end of the month to pay for food, medicine, clothing (and) transportation... so housing affordability is really a big issue that we try to focus on through our programs."

Another problematic area is fair housing. Schmidt said there is a lot of information about how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit, whether tenants need a lease, how much a pet deposit can cost and what will happen if a tenant does not pay their rent.

A large part of Schmidt's job is to help tenants to understand and navigate those aspects of housing.

"I think it's important for the agency to have a robust housing offering," Schmidt said. "If we don't address these issues, no one else is going to – and we know that areas that don't address housing with their clients end up with higher rates of homelessness, higher rates of people being institutionalized in places like state hospitals; they have a higher percentage of clients having encounters with law enforcement and their outcomes are not as good."

According to Schmidt, housing is "one of the cheapest interventions" for helping people to be successful, and is far cheaper than people staying in the state hospital or being incarcerated.

More and more often, Schmidt noted that individuals are ending up in jail for no other reason than that they have nowhere else to go.

For more information about community based services through Prairie View, visit prairieview.org/services/community-based-services or call 316-284-6439 ext. 6790.