Project will help people with mental illness

The Phillip House will provide a safe shelter for the homeless.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:36 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Phillip Stepney was a father of two children, a family man, a leader in his community of Columbus, Ohio, a landlord and was active in his church before progressive mental illness and substance abuse led him into homelessness and eventually death, said his brother, Leland Stepney. Four years after Phillip Stepney’s death, a Columbia rental property has been named after him.

“The Phillip House is for individuals that have had similar experiences,” said Leland Stepney, coordinator of housing at Phoenix Programs Inc. “It’s a stabilizing effort for people to receive safe and low-income housing that will help them get connected to the community and themselves.”

Phoenix Programs, a not-for-profit agency in Columbia, provides treatment for substance abuse addiction and homelessness to individuals and families. The Phillip House will provide housing and a safe environment for individuals recovering from homelessness, substance abuse problems and mental health illness, Stepney said. The Phillip House is the first of its kind for Phoenix Programs.

Stepney said the Phillip House is “definitely helpful for individuals to be empowered and stay connected” to their community and services. The house helps individuals break what he calls the cycle of homelessness and addiction and could help individuals see that homelessness is not the only option, he added.

When individuals who are homeless start to feel empowered and connected to their community, Stepney said, the community benefits because they become examples for others. “If a few folks are doing this, it shows others,” Stepney said.

Phoenix Programs’ At Home program will subsidize the building through Mark Stevenson, owner of Real Estate Management, Inc. It will be a group-living arrangement for the tenants, in which each tenant will have a personal bedroom and bathroom but kitchens and other rooms will be shared. Phoenix Programs has dubbed the project, “Columbia’s newest solution for homelessness.”

Stevenson said the Phillip House is a positive addition to Columbia because it will provide its tenants with an opportunity to become productive members of society. Programs like this help individuals get rooted in their community and not resort to stealing or other negative actions that are detrimental to the community, he said. The Phillip House is a place where the tenants try to help each other and help themselves, he said.

“If anyone tries to rid themselves of any sort of chemical or addictive dependency and tries to become strong, independent and self-reliant, they deserve everyone’s support and blessing,” Stevenson said. “Like a chain is only as strong as its links, a community is only as strong as its individual members.”

Stevenson purchased the Phillip House in May. Since then, Stevenson and others have been working on screening tenants and getting everything organized, he said.

Phillip Stepney came to live with his brother in 1994 in order to get a fresh start, Leland Stepney said. Leland tried to help his brother as much as he could, but Phillip Stepney’s situation eventually led him to grow further away from his family and community.

Phillip’s mental illness and addiction problems “didn’t allow him to mend the situation with his family,” Leland Stepney said, and Phillip didn’t acknowledge the situation he was in for a long time. After Phillip came to terms with his addiction and mental illness, Leland said, his brother was not able to find safe housing that would have helped him recover and reconnect with his family and the community. Phillip’s inability to become part of an environment that promotes healing further contributed to his downfall, Leland Stepney said.

Stepney watched as his brother’s situation grew worse. He said his brother’s mental illness sped up “the serious situation” of his brother’s excessive abuse of drugs and alcohol.

After talking to his co-workers, it seemed logical to name the building after his brother, Leland Stepney said.

“It had always been kind of in the back of my mind as I kind of gravitated toward becoming the coordinator of this program,” he said. “It just seemed appropriate.”

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