Supportive housing helps homeless PTSD sufferers rebuild life

As rocks go, they are nothing special. But to her they are precious stones. She has written messages on them to lift her spirits when a lifetime filled with trauma causes them to sag.

“I am loved,” reads one of the rocks.

“Faith,” reads another.

Dickinson, 50, lives in Village on Wiley, a supportive housing community developed by Ability Housing on Jacksonville’s Westside. The village’s 43 apartments are designed for chronically homeless adults who have cycled in and out of crisis services. They live there as they receive counseling and other services, train for careers and rebuild their lives; rent is based on each client’s ability to pay.

Their roads to recovery can be long and bumpy.

Dickinson, whose trauma began with being molested by her father at age 8, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression. Having a home and support — and having the message rocks and other “self-affirmations” scattered throughout her apartment — “keep me going.”

“A lot of days I despair, want to give up,” she said. “But I have worked too hard to let go. Being a part of this [Wiley] gives me a chance to live, a chance to breathe, to do what I need to do to get better.”

HOMELESSNESS AND PTSD

Shannon Nazworth is executive director of Jacksonville-based Ability Housing, which develops and operates quality affordable rental housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and for adults with a disability. She and her staff are seeing a growing number of homeless and formerly homeless people, particularly women, who like Dickinson have post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is a mental-health condition that’s triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety. PTSD Awareness Day is Monday.

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