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Holidays Challenge IL People with Mental Illnesses

December 21, 2009

CHICAGO - The holidays can be rough for Illinois residents with mental illnesses. Elizabeth Harris, who suffers from depression, says she has spent many holidays in hospitals and homeless shelters, or completely alone, without proper medication, feeling isolated and without hope. But this year is different. Harris lives at Hutchinson House, a group home for women in Chicago, which she says gives her a reason to be thankful.

"It's having people here that understand me and who have needs like I do, and who probably care about me like I care about them."

The women had been receiving assistance from staff members on site 24 hours a day, but because of state budget cuts, they are now on their own two nights a week. On those evenings where overnight staff had to be cut, Harris admits, it's a bit uncomfortable for the women to be on their own.

"One of the things that drew me to this house is that there is always, constantly, staff around - and if I have bad thoughts, I can talk to somebody about it."

However, staffing cuts or no, Harris says, the women have managed to create a festive mood.

"We put up a Christmas tree. I didn't help put it up, because I'm real shy about stuff like that. But two of the women here put up the Christmas tree, which is really nice because, I mean, a lot of people don't have family."

The support she has received allows Elizabeth Harris to work part-time and attend school part-time.

Hutchinson House residential staff member Barrett Kern says it wasn't easy to accept the staffing cuts.

"It was really upsetting for a lot of people, not just from, you know, the lack of hours, but just the concept of not having someone to be there for the ladies."

Social service providers say support programs around Illinois face another possible round of budget cuts again next year.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL