Pastor Jones sits across from me. Between us lays his black covered Bible with worn, gold foil trimmed edges. His office is painted in hues of burgundy and filled with mahogany furniture. Pictures of his mother, President Obama and those involved with helping develop and fund United House frame his office.
He begins to recall his mother, Rhodina, who suffered from a mental illness and died in a mental institution in Jackson, Mississippi. Not only was his mother a victim of mental illness, his brother also shared the same condition. Pastor Jones saw and experienced firsthand the struggle of how ashamed and embarrassed they felt. It hurt and troubled him to see them being mistreated. “People treat people with this condition like they are crazy. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it just means you have some challenges.” After a long battle, his brother committed suicide.
Pastor of United Christian Church for 33 years, Pastor Jones has always reached out to the community, especially to those less fortunate. It has always been in his heart to help the mentally ill. In 2007, Pastor Jones and the members of his Church decided to reach out to those who are less fortunate and suffering from a mental illness by purchasing five duplexes within the community. However, he knew it was not enough.
After reading the series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding poor housing conditions and mistreatment of the mentally ill and recalling the struggles of his own family with mental illness, Pastor Jones took interest in building special-needs housing in his community for the mentally ill. Pastor Jones partnered with Milwaukee County Housing Division, Cardinal Capital Management and community leaders to help fund and develop United House.
United House is Milwaukee’s first affordable, supportive housing for persons experiencing mental illness. Located at 2500 West Center Street, United House provides 24 one-bedroom apartments and on-site supportive services. All residents get their utilities paid for. Residents are able to enjoy a community kitchen, underground parking, storage, laundry facilities, technology center, fitness center, library, lounge areas, community room and outdoor patio. United House is located along the Milwaukee County Transit System’s Route 22 – Center Street bus stop.
In addition to the on-site supportive services provided at United House, Pastor Jones and members of his Church lend helping hands to the residents as well. They work to build a rapport with the residents by hosting one-on-one sessions allowing the residents to express freely whatever is on his or her mind. All tenants are welcomed to attend church service on Sundays.
Pastor Jones and members of the Church cook food for the residents on holidays. During Christmas, the Church presents a gift to each resident. Every Fourth of July, the Church hosts an outing and cookout at a local park in which residents and their family are invited to attend. Residents are welcomed to partake in the free meals service provided at the Church on Wednesday evenings. Pastor Jones is always searching for ways to fundraise to help contribute to the well-being of the residents at United House.
When they first bought the land to build United House, the neighborhood was a known drug area. The murder rate had increased and people had negative thoughts about the mentally challenged moving into the neighborhood. That negativity has all but disappeared as Pastor Jones and members of his Church have worked to integrate residents into the neighborhood and keep the appearance of the landscape neat and clean. Daily someone from the Church picks up the litter around United House and the neighborhood. The well-maintained building and property has motivated others in the neighborhood to work toward keeping their yards maintained.
As Pastor Jones concluded our meeting he told me, “United House has been a blessing to the 24 people that live here. It has been a blessing to the entire community.”