Ebenezer rehab targets independent living for the mentally ill
Paulette Wheeler, operations manager at Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre, speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for a transitional facility last week. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Leaders of the Manchester-based Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre are optimistic that plans for an in-demand transitional home will come to fruition and provide greater opportunity for mentally ill men to live independently.

Paulette Wheeler, operations manager at the centre, told the Jamaica Observer that the planned two-floor transitional home will give mentally ill patients a chance to work on their social skills and be better reintegrated into society.

"We rehabilitate our clients and put them back into society but we were finding that as we were placing them back, a lot of them were relapsing because they couldn't cope with the realities of life outside of Ebenezer. So the vision then came about that we needed a transitional home to prepare the clients for life after Ebenezer," she said last week during an interview at a ground-breaking ceremony for the transitional home.

She explained that the multimillion-dollar project has received support from donors, including a recent contribution of US$15,000 from Australian community Phibion Limited, contracted to bauxite and alumina company Jamalco. She said no timeline has been given for the project, due to the need for more funding.

Secretary at the Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre Joan Clarke (right) presenting a plaque to Phibion Limited CEO Jacques Janse at the ground-breaking ceremony for a transitional facility last week. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

"The project is going to be anywhere between $15 million to $20 million to build it;so far we are at five million," she said while adding that the facility will accommodate up to eight patients.

"This building, once it goes up it will be able to house eight men. It will be two floors. They will each have their own bedroom, living room; then they will share the kitchen. They will have a bathroom, so it will be like living in their own little flat, and they will be paying a small stipend in rent to prepare them to be independent," she said.

"We want [them] to learn to be independent so when they go out there they know they have to budget for their rent, budget for transportation to and from work, ensure they have food to eat. They will be living independently, but under our guidance," Wheeler added.

However, she expressed concern over stigmatisation of those with mental illness.

Final year social work students at the Northern Caribbean University (from left) Danice Baker, Kacie Gordon and Nickema Thomas performing an item at the groundbreaking ceremony for a transitional facility last week. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

"The stigma in Jamaica, as I keep saying, it is an illness that we live with just like we live with diabetes or hypertension… What we find, especially with our men, is that they are told to: 'Man up! Why are you crying? Why are you looking sad?' So they have to paint this impression that they are always happy when in reality they are not," she explained.

Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre — located in Grey Ground, Manchester, next to the parish's infirmary — is one of the few facilities in the south-central parish that also has a drop-in centre.

"We currently have 20 residential clients [males]. We also operate a drop-in system whereby those who are actually on the streets can actually come in, change their clothes, cut their hair, get something to eat," Wheeler said.

She said that many homeless people walk a few miles from Mandeville to the rehabilitation centre.

From right: nPhibion Limited CEO Jacques Janse; past master, Ewing Lodge, Horace Lawrence; Ewing Lodge members Kevin Bernard and Chris Reid breaking ground for a transitional facility last week. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

"Some of them will walk, because they know this is a place where they can get food, clean clothes, and something to eat. That is why we are a part of the homeless committee and are working with others to try and have a night shelter in Mandeville itself, so that they can go to that centre and from there also transition to Ebenezer to be rehabilitated," she said.

She suggested that there is a breakdown in the family that has eroded support mechanisms for people.

"The majority of men want to be reintegrated, they want a family life, but family life in Jamaica has broken down so badly that most of them do not have a family to return to so we now become their family. And we have to ensure that when they leave us the chance of their relapsing is slim, so that is where the transitional home will come in — for them to learn independent living," she said.

"In these transitional homes they would live independently, going out to work and to budget their money. The transitional homes will prepare them for life after Ebenezer. Once they are with us they learn all about their mental illness. They get jobs, because we work with the local business community," Wheeler added.

The design for a transitional home for the mentally ill at the Ebenezer Rehabilitation Centre in Grey Ground, Manchester.

She said each patient has a plan centred on them and a goal to attain.

"We bring the men in [and] we work with psychologists, psychiatrists, and medical doctors. Each client has a care plan, so from the minute they enter, we know what their goal is. We work with them to achieve that goal. They start with an intensive programme to get them off whichever drug they are on. They learn to live with their mental illness and then, as they transition through the programme and receive a job, we also have to get their birth certificates, all their documents," she said.

Councillor Faith Sampson, chair of the Manchester Homeless Committee, said the Government intends to provide a night shelter in Manchester.

"…We are now in the process of finalising the site and then we will take it from there. In the parish we have over 70 persons on the street, so let us say we could accommodate 50 ... that would be really good. One of our objectives at the committee level, we reunite and reintegrate at least three people per quarter," she said.

She welcomed the plan to build a transitional facility at Ebenezer.

"This is not just a shelter, this is rehabilitation; and that has been taking place here and that is what we need to do to rehabilitate, especially the mentally ill persons who are on the streets. A facility like this is perfect," she said.

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