by Joanna Bragen

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s I sit in my chair in my two-bedroom, Section 8 apartment looking at my sweet dog asleep on my couch, I can’t believe how far I have come. My past housing, as a person with mental illness, has changed 180 degrees.

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

When I first came out of my first hospital stay, I was still married to my ex-husband, but stayed with my parents so that they could help take care of me while he worked. I suffered from akathisia, with physical agitation and intense anxiety, and spent half the night walking circles inside their house. Eventually, I moved back to El Cerrito with my (then) husband.
I underwent many hospitalizations and ended up in many “board and care” homes. Even the name is a misnomer. Too often, the people who ran these homes really couldn’t care less about their residents. Board and cares are the biggest racket I have ever seen.
I experienced endless abuses there: substandard housing, lack of food, and nearly no nutritious food. In only one board and care, where the workers were really mean, did I ever have fresh fruits and vegetables. The board and care took almost all of my paycheck and barely expended any money on the residents. I had to buy my own toilet paper.I have been forced to throw out a sandwich I was going to eat, because I was five minutes past “curfew.”  At one place, it was so bad I tried to find other places to sleep, and when my mother came to visit, the owner tried to say I was a “slut.”  I moved out that day. At this same place, a man (who no one could identify, strangely) tried to enter my room at night. Also, the owner’s daughter stole my shoes.
Even a board and care that was run by a pretty reputable mental health company, was a very negative experience. This facility was the best place I stayed, but staff members were often cruel and condescending. Also, you had to be gone most of the day, forbidden to remain in your “home” during the daytime hours.
When I graduated from the Spirit program in Contra Costa County, I looked for a job in mental health. I did not go to an outpatient program any more, so did not have plans every day. Because of this, the very arrogant director said I was being manipulative.
At the board and care in Richmond, I met a boyfriend who finally found me a better place to live, in Concord. From there, I met my husband, moved to a low-rent apartment at Riverhouse in Martinez, and then got a Section 8 housing subsidy.
I am thankful for the great place I have now, with gardens all around it. I will always remember the horrors at board and cares. I especially enjoy locking my door, and knowing I can control who and what goes on in my own home.