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Crisis Hostel: Alternative to psychiatric hospitalization


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The Crisis Hostel, located in Ithica, New York, is a place where people who are experiencing an emotional or mental crisis, have an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. The hostel opened its doors in November 1994 and is part of a two-year research project funded by the Center For Mental Health Services in an effort to show that even when people are in crisis, they are capable and entitled to make their own choices about treatment and healing. The founders of the Crisis Hostel believe that peer counseling can be effective in promoting self-healing and that the option of retreating to a supportive place for a short period of time may enable people to avoid unnecessary or unwanted hospitalization.

The Crisis Hostel has room for up to five guests at a time and is a free and voluntary temporary residence. The hostel is staffed 24 hours a day by people trained in peer counseling, advocacy, assistance in access to resources, and crisis intervention and management. Many of the staff are consumers/survivors/ex-patients. Guests at the hostel may choose to use any, all or none of the services available. Services include: peer counseling with people who are trained to listen; support groups; help in managing stressful situations; information on and help obtaining community services such as food stamps, SSI and counseling, etc.; use of "rage room"-a safe place to be angry; use of massage and meditation room; help in dealing with social services such as DSS and the mental health system; training in skills such as how to manage a crisis; support from other guests at the hostel.

The key here is choice. No one is forced to do anything. No one is restrained. No one is forced to take psychotropic drugs and no one is isolated. If guests of the hostel feel that they need services that the hostel cannot or will not provide-or if a short-term respite is not enough-guests may choose to admit themselves to a hospital, but they will not be committed involuntarily by anyone at the hostel. While at the hostel, guests are free to come and go and use the hostel as they choose. Some people decide to continue working or do other activities during the day and stay at the hostel only at night, while others spend their days at the hostel.

The following are some thoughts and feelings by those who have used the hostel as an alternative to hospitalization:

  • "I really felt like someone would actually listen to me with an open heart and without watching the clock."

  • "It's hard to get used to the fact that I can come and go as I please and that nothing is locked."

  • "This is the first place that I feel like I can be honest about my intensive suicidal and homicidal feelings without worrying about getting locked up for it."

  • "People here (Coordinators) really understand because they have actually been there. It's not like they just learned about 'people like us' in books."

  • "I sure wish this place had been available before I got locked up five years ago." (or ten years ago, etc. Heard from many, many guests in recounting psychic injuries of psychiatric hospitalization.)

  • "This place is so homey! When my friend came to visit he had no idea it was a hostel. He just thought it was where I was staying with a bunch of people."

  • "Since coming to the Hostel I realize that I have a lot more choices to get involved with. Like alternative stuff. Like acupressure and crystals and nutrition."

  • "Because of the Hostel I was able to finish my exams at Cornell and no one even knew I was having emotional problems. Without the Hostel I would have had to choose between graduation and returning home (to a foreign country)."

  • "I'm so glad that my children can visit me here instead of some hospital day room. That really freaks them out and makes them worry that I'm sick."

  • "The workshops and support group have been great."

  • "I haven't stayed at the Hostel yet. Just knowing that I could has kept me out of crisis."

The guiding principles of the Crisis Hostel are designed to maximize individual power, reinforce the responsibility each personhas for themselves, and provide a supportive environment that relies on a peer-model of helping. Specifically, these principles include: people ought to be able to experience a crisis situation with the least possible disruption to their daily routine and existing support systems; people, even when in crisis, are capable of making decisions and choices for themselves; there are decision-making, negotiating and living skills that can be taught, modeled, and/or supported while people are living through a crisis; and help is best received when there is reciprocity between help givers and receivers.

If you would like more information about the Crisis Hostel call 607-272-3724.