MIRCI Intervening Early to Prevent Lifelong Mental Illness and Permanent Homelessness

Sponsored By: MIRCI

A little more than a year after opening a Youth Drop-in Center for 17-24-year-olds experiencing or at risk of homelessness, the Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc. (MIRCI) is preparing to open a new Youth Home.

Construction of the 3,000-square-foot, $720,000 facility on Washington Street in downtown Columbia is currently underway, and is expected to finish in early July. The home will provide 10 bedrooms for youth age 17-24 identifying as male. Youth will be able to reside in the home for up to 18 months as they learn skills and receive support equipping them to live and thrive independently in the community.

MIRCI’s homeless youth drop-in center, which opened last year, is located less than one block from the new home. The drop-in center serves youth age 17-24 who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The drop-in center provides access to basic needs including laundry, showers, lockers, meals, clothing and transportation assistance; on-site behavioral healthcare including trauma-focused therapy and a psychiatric clinic; and referrals to more than 25 community partners providing education, employment, housing, healthcare and legal services.

The youth home will provide stable housing and support services to young men aging out of foster care; those who are above the age to stay in limited family shelters with their mothers; unaccompanied homeless youth referred by school districts; and youth referred by partner agencies.

The home will be staffed 24 hours a day and offer case management and support services as needed. Residents will engage in productive activities for 40 hours each week, including working, attending classes and volunteering.

The new facility will house residents identifying as male because that is where there is the greatest need, says Daniel “Mac” Caldwell, Jr., MIRCI’s Youth Services Director.

“As much as 65 to 70 percent of the young people served by the drop-in center identify as male, so we thought it would be prudent to start there first,” he says. 

MIRCI is a nonprofit organization that assists individuals with mental illness to recover in the areas of their lives impacted by their illness through housing, behavioral healthcare and assistance with obtaining and managing their disability income.

It was founded in 1960 to provide transitional services to people exiting mental hospitals, however the more psychiatric hospitals deinstitutionalized, the more MIRCI started seeing “not just in our state, but across the country, a rise in homelessness,” says Executive Director Julie Ann Avin. “Our intent is to intervene early to prevent lifelong mental illness and permanent homelessness.”

Roughly a quarter of the homeless population in the U.S. suffers from mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

MIRCI’s youth housing initiative grew out of a site visit to Salt Lake City at the invitation of the Nord Family Foundation and the United Way of the Midlands to observe best practice housing models. Both the foundation and United Way contributed grants to help replicate Salt Lake City’s success here. The home also received support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, South Carolina Housing Trust Fund and the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Columbia Class of 2018 selected the home as its class project and is helping to provide furnishings and finishes.

“Without the support of so many community partners, this home wouldn’t be possible,” Caldwell says.

Anyone interested in receiving more information about the home or donating to MIRCI should call (803) 786-1844 or visit MIRCI.org.