Gulf Bend's wellness community

Residents can apply for housing for up to 16 months in a special apartment facility operated by Gulf Bend. The apartment facility provides affordable apartments for residents with a co-existing mental illness and chronic health condition.

Gulf Bend’s affordable housing complex for adults with mental health conditions needs new funding sources to stay open, the center’s leaders said.

Advocates for the project, known as Gulf Bend’s Wellness Community, are starting a campaign to urge Crossroads residents to support the community and start a conversation about how to sustain it long-term.

The facility has been losing money since it opened in 2015 and is currently owned, operated and funded by Gulf Bend, the Crossroads’ largest provider of mental health and intellectual or developmental disability services.

Steve Hipes, the chair of Gulf Bend’s board of trustees, said at a board meeting last month that it was time to start a larger community conversation about how to pay for the Wellness Community. The Wellness Community loses about $250,000 a year, according to center estimates.

“Gulf Bend can’t continue to carry this thing at a quarter of a million dollars a year,” Hipes said. “It just can’t happen.”

Jeff Tunnell, the center’s executive director, said that the financial quandary didn’t become apparent until after construction on the project was almost complete in 2015. At the time, Gulf Bend leaders had expected the project to be eligible for state funding. It wasn’t until construction was almost finished that project leaders learned the state would not provide the anticipated funding.

“We were too far down the road,” Tunnell said. “Our funding did not come through.”

Now, more than four years after the Wellness Community opened, advocates are appealing to Crossroads residents to support the project financially. They made their first major pitch to the public at a recent Victoria Economic Development Corporation weekly partnership meeting.

Nancy Garner, the president of the Woolson Real Estate Company, told community leaders at that meeting that the Wellness Community saves taxpayers dollars in the long term. Garner also noted that the community is the only one of its kind in Victoria and likely in the entire state of Texas.

“If my real estate company closes today, there’s another one down the street,” Garner said. “If the Wellness Community closes, there is no other business to take its place ... My job today is to alert you to the problem the Wellness Community faces. It’s a delicate balance, and it simply costs more to provide those services than what the residents can pay.”

The question for the community’s future, Tunnell said, is, “How we can find some fundraising dollars to help cover some of that cost while Gulf Bend continues looking for other ways to fund the programs and other programs or projects that can benefit the Wellness Community?”

The Wellness Community is not facing an imminent risk of closure. Gulf Bend officials have said they will not abandon the community.

Projects like the Wellness Community are part of a “housing-first” service model. Gulf Bend has prioritized units at the Wellness Community for people with co-existing disorders, or who have a mental health diagnosis as well as a chronic health condition. Residents are also required to pay below-market-rate rent to live in the community. The goal of the Wellness Community is to provide transitional housing for people who, for whatever reason, have struggled to live independently. More than 100 people have lived there since it opened.

“We have an opportunity,” Hipes said. “(The Wellness Community) keeps people out of jail, it keeps them off the street ... This is an organized effort to get them services that they desperately need. Jail’s not the place to do it; the street’s not the place to do it.”

Reporter Morgan O’Hanlon contributed to this story.

Ciara McCarthy covers local health issues for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. She reports on insurance, the cost of health care and access to care, local hospitals, and more. Contact: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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