Tucked behind a magnolia tree and several leafy shrubs on a quiet street in Oak Cliff sits an unassuming, pale yellow house. It’s two stories tall, with wide windows and an expansive front porch, not far from the local coffee shops, restaurants and boutique stores popping up along Davis Street and Bishop Arts. This is Jacob’s House, a City of Dallas licensed boarding house run by The Well Community. It is home to eight men who deal with chronic mental illnesses, and is a haven from homelessness.
The house was founded in 2002, when The Well Community leaders began to recognize how challenging it is for those who struggle with mental illnesses and live below the poverty level to find safe and decent housing. Landlords who charge exorbitant fees often easily manipulate those who suffer with mental health difficulties. Most residents cannot handle the responsibilities of maintaining a living space on their own in addition to dealing with the symptoms of their illnesses.
Jacob’s House offers a refuge where those trying to manage severe and persistent mental disorders can have a room, nutritious meals, friendship and some personal assistance. It also provides a community of acceptance and help. Together the residents watch movies, play games and eat ice cream, all while supporting one another through the daily highs and lows of life. Conversations about God, along with prayers for healing and hope, are common as the men encourage and care for each other.
Another challenge for those with mental health difficulties is having the necessary structure to help them maintain autonomy. Many boarding homes are restrictive, with practices such as locking up food or not allowing visitors. But at Jacob’s House, residents are offered more freedom. They can welcome visitors, enjoy the open kitchen and voluntarily participate in daily chores, like shopping for groceries.
Alice Zaccarello, executive director of The Well and Jacob’s House supervisor, organizes house meetings, manages interviews with potential residents and maintains the daily ins-and-outs of the house. According to Zaccarello, one of the most important benefits Jacob’s House provides its residents is fostering a community of shared living while offering the autonomy of independence. “The lives of the people we help are so fragile,” she says, “What’s important to me is to establish a relationship with them where they are emotionally.”
Of the eight who live at Jacob’s House now, several were homeless beforehand and others moved from boarding homes of various kinds. No matter where they came from, all praise Jacob’s House as the best residence they’ve ever known.
“This is our home,” says one resident who battles schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that has features of both schizophrenia and a mood irregularity. “We can do what we want here.”
“I am very grateful,” says another resident about Jacob’s House. Previously, he lived in an apartment with an abusive landlady. “It has indeed been a blessing.”
Want to donate or serve?
The Well is looking for volunteers! A small commitment has a great impact on the lives of those who deal with mental illness in Oak Cliff. We are always looking for new volunteers to help serve meals, teach new skills or help with special projects. Think you might be interested? Don’t hesitate to call or email! We would love to answer your questions and find the best place for you to use your unique gifts. Contact us today!