Tuesday, January 8, 2013

History Told of Soon-to-Open Chesed Home

Chesed Home, San Diego County’s adult residential facility serving Jews with serious mental illness, opens next month in this city.

Hope Village San Diego, a 501 3c non-profit, has developed Chesed Home. The mission is to provide a safe and nurturing residence for adults with serious mental illness, based on Jewish values and individualized services, compassionately delivered. Chesed Home is a place where its clients can achieve the highest level of personal dignity, self-worth and independence. Outside of New York and Florida, no other such facilities are operating in the US.

The recently built home will be open for touring 11 am Jan. 23 and Jan. 27 at 402 West Lincoln Avenue. Chesed Home has received two successive innovative grants of $5,000 and $10,000 from the Jewish Federation of San Diego County which has also donated time from webmaster Aaron Truax, and other personnel. Funds in excess of $300,000 have been raised and pledged; the goal is to raise $3 million to buy the buildings and provide scholarships. Client fees will be half what they are in similar full-treatment facilities, with a sliding scale for scholarship. Tuition for similar places run at least $6,000 a month and usually more.

Founders Devorah and Yaakov Shore chose the name Chesed Home because it means a home of loving kindness. Their project began two years ago when Devorah grew frustrated finding an appropriate treatment facility for her son Michael, 32, who was struck with schizoid affective disorder at 19. To this day Michael believes he doesn't have a mental illness. During the seven years since moving to San Diego from Portland, the Shores enrolled Michael in three different local board and cares without adequate treatment for Michael’s symptoms.

In these homes Michael found lice, was offered crack cocaine, and was given the freedom to wander downtown where he bought cough medicine and panhandled for beer and marijuana–dangerous combinations with the psycho-active drugs he was taking. Once he was punched in the nose and another occasion he was called a “dirty Jew”.

Michael grew up in a religious home and has always had a Jewish connection. Devorah saw how Michael would come alive when he participated in Jewish activities and had Jewish friends. Devorah felt Michael and other Jewish young men would do well in a treatment facility based on Jewish values of compassion, love and understanding.

Mentally ill persons are the most neglected, dysfunctional people in society. Without someone to care for them, their lives consist of going through three revolving doors: living on the streets, spending nights in jail and doing short stays in psych wards. To rid their minds of voices, they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs and sugar-laden treats.

Parents of the MI often hide their loved one’s illness because of embarrassment. The care giver has very little personal life, is emotionally drained, strapped financially, and forever feeling guilty about the past and not doing more in the present. The MI person is out of touch with reality, and sometimes can’t be counted on to come home safely after his wonderings.
Shortly after her arrival in San Diego, Devorah joined Jewish Family Service’s behavioral health committee and met there its co-chair, Fern Siegel, and other Jewish parents with children who were seriously mentally ill. Fern is president of Hope Village San Diego, an organization set up a few years earlier whose mission was to build a home for Jews with mental illness. The home was eventually acquired, however county funding mandated that all residents be homeless–and no homeless Jews with serious mental illness ever applied to be residents.

Devorah wanted a home funded by the community, but didn’t know how to go about it. Her friend, Keren Horowitz, had just made aliyah and told Devorah about a former kibbutz there that became a home for the mentally ill. Called Kishorit, it had the support of the government with young people choosing to work there in lieu of serving in the IDF. Enough people volunteered so that each client could receive one-on-one attention all the time. The only problem with sending Michael to Kishorit was the cost: $500,000 for a non-Israeli. Intrigued by the idea of starting such a place here, Devorah urged and cheered on by Keren saying, “You can do it!” Never shy of greeting people and making friends, Devorah went to work.

She recruited her friends Marlene Rissman, Fern Siegel, who would become chairman of the CH working committee, and Judy Belinsky, board member of the Jewish Federation and friend she had met through Anne Katz. Fern brought in Hannah Moss and Judy enlisted Karen Yasgoor. Recently Audrey Viterbi Smargon and Karen Foster Silberman have joined the group.

Fern, Judy, Hannah, Karen, Marlene, Devorah and Yaakov met with Chabad Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Poway. Next they went to Changing Options in Ramona and had the very good fortune of meeting co-owner Michael Hellman, who became a friend and invaluable resource in the group’s design and start up needs for Chesed Home. Fern brought in Ray Schwartz, lscw, recently retired from the county mental health and who had several books on board and cares. Others who lent their knowledge and support were Karl Jacobs and David Feifel, two local psychiatrists; and Suzanne Marcus, PhD. in psychology. All board members and the advisory committee are listed on the website, chesedhome.org.

What has driven these people to create this enterprise and raise over $300,000 is their personal experience caring for a mentally ill family member. They know to their core that compassionate care and treatment of this disease is the right thing to do. And Chesed Home is a start.


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