GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Programs that help those with mental illness and disability in Holland and Grand Rapids get the skills they need to succeed are about to shut their doors, leaving those who relied on the program wondering what they will do.
The Holland Clubhouse and Sheldon House serve about 150 people in Kent and Ottawa counties, who in many cases go from lives without purpose to living as productive members of society.
At the Lakeshore Clubhouse in Holland, members wrote on a white board what the center has meant to them.
Including Estella Forist, who has been at the clubhouse for 12 years.
She wrote: “Clubhouse has kept me out of the hospital for my mental illness. I learned to cope and I’m not sure what it will mean if Clubhouse is closed.”
“This is a learning place to fit in with other people,” she explains.
The clubhouse on Century Lane in Holland is one of 47 in Michigan with the specific purpose of taking people who struggle with the everyday routines of life because of their mental illness and work with employers like Bob Evans, Taco Bell and others to get them jobs.
“I like this job a lot, I wanna keep it” said Jeff Kuipers, who got his gig washing dishes at the Bob Evans Restaurant on E. 24th Street in Holland.
That job is unlikely to continue without the support of the Lakeshore Clubhouse.
The clubhouse has staff that helps people at the facility develop skills that give them greater independence.
Early this month, it was announced that the Community Mental Health of Ottawa County was closing the facility as of February.
“I cried and I still cry every now and then, but not as bad as I was. This getting the news at the last minute, I wasn’t a happy camper,” Forist said. “Telling people at the last minute that we was closing was a slap in the face — it was just horrible.”
A similar program is run in Grand Rapids through Network 180 at Sheldon House in the Heartside Neighborhood, and staff and other sources said it will also close in February.
Lynne Doyle, executive director of Community Mental Health of Ottawa county, said the closing is necessary because of decreased Medicaid funding from the state that led to a $2 million budget shortfall for 2018 even though the county passed a mental health millage in 2016.
Sandi Beute and her younger brother Joshua Ebbens are examples of those are facing life without what they say has been a life-changing resource.
Ebbens deals with mental illness and has had developmental disabilities since he was a teen.
At 38, Ebbens was able to live on his own for the first time 18 months ago.
“It changed Josh’s life in so many ways, it provided him an extended family, it provided me an extended family,” said Beute. “Josh was in and out of institutions, he was in and out of group homes.”
She said the program gave her brother a job and taught him skills he needed to cope with the struggles of life.
“Instead of going to a drop-in center or just wandering the neighborhood… He’s been able to take on so much independence when before, everything in those other programs is kind of dictated for him,” Beute said.
Jama Moffett runs Clubhouse Michigan, which oversees the 47 Clubhouse programs in Michigan and she said only Ottawa and Kent Counties are closing their programs.
Community Mental Health of Ottawa said some staff will be retained in other positions and there are other programs available to the clients.
“It’s a false equivalency, it’s not the same,” Beute said. “The support is just not there.”
She said the closing has been difficult for her brother.
“Just since the news came out, he has already struggled,” she said.
24 Hour News 8 talked to Joshua with his sister over the phone.
“I was really devastated,” Ebbens said. “They’re there through thick and thin with me and I’m very proud to be a member of Lakeshore clubhouse.”
The siblings are hoping that they can find community support and perhaps run the clubhouse in Holland as a non-profit.
According to Clubhouse Michigan, none are done that way.