At Home at Jacob’s House

Matthew and his mother, Shelley. Photo by Christena Dowsett

More than anything, Matthew wanted to feel independent. But mental illness made it difficult for him to live on his own.

He’d tried staying in a supported housing program, and for a while, he’d been homeless; but after every attempt to gain independence he eventually wound up back at his mother’s home. He was in his mid-40s, and it was hard for him to live with her—just as it was hard for her to care for him.

That’s when his mother, Shelley, learned about Jacob’s House. A friend of hers who also had a son dealing with a mental illness recommended it to them. Desperate for a more fulfilling living situation for her son, she decided to give it a try.

“We certainly didn’t know if it was going to work,” says Shelley. “We just thought, ‘let’s give this a chance.’”

Jacob’s House ended up being exactly what Matthew, who deals with a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and bipolar disorder, needed.

The house in Oak Cliff was founded in 2002 by Well leaders who recognized how challenging it is for their members to find safe, decent and affordable housing. Those who struggle with mental illnesses are often easily manipulated and cannot handle the responsibilities of maintaining a home in addition to managing their mental health recovery. Jacob’s House offers a safe haven for up to eight men to share meals, friendship and encouragement.

For Matthew, Jacob’s House also provides the sense of independence he craved.

In Oak Cliff, Matthew can purchase snacks, buy clothes and take public transportation all within walking distance of the house.

“The more independent he feels, the more independent he can be,” says Shelley.

In addition, Jacob’s House offers Matthew a community he’s never had before. Mental illness can be isolating, making it difficult for individuals to reach out to others without being stigmatized or simply misunderstood. At Jacob’s House, however, Matthew lives with other men who struggle with similar problems and relate with each other on similar levels.

More than that, the community in Oak Cliff has a high measure of empathy for people who are marginalized, says Shelley. That means Matthew can walk down the street or go into a store without people thinking he’s a threat simply because he looks different or may be talking to himself.

Recently, Shelley visited Jacob’s House at dinnertime. She was struck that all the residents sat down at the table to eat together. They had a community, she says, even though one of the symptoms of mental illness is to feel separated from others.

Neither Shelley nor Matthew take Jacob’s House for granted.

“I don’t doubt the power of my diagnosis,” says Matthew, who’s aware that he must work hard to maintain this level of mental health recovery and independence in his life.

“I hope it continues to work for him,” says Shelley. “… You don’t live through the years I’ve lived through taking much for granted.”

Your Support

The Well Community serves those who struggle with severe mental illnesses. Many daily face stigma, poverty, homelessness and related issues. Your support makes services like Jacob’s House possible. Give now.