The Bridge was founded in 1954 by a group of men and women who had been together in a psychiatric hospital and, upon returning to the community, found that there were no programs to support them. While they were given prescriptions for psychotropic medication when they were discharged from the hospital, they had no experience living in the community, having been hospitalized for many years. The self-help program they created, supported by volunteer fundraising, provided mutual social support and recreational activities for more than 150 men and women during the next fifteen years.
Deinstitutionalization and Its Aftermath
In 1969, by which time thousands of psychiatric patients had been discharged from state hospitals, the State Office of Mental Health recognized the need to provide structured services to the mentally ill in the community and reached out to The Bridge, offering the agency its first goverment contract. With the contract in place, The Bridge hired its first full-time Executive Director who focused the agency on helping clients meet their basic needs, including having adequate food and clothing, obtaining their government entitlements, having a safe haven and structured program, and, beginning in 1979, quality housing. During this period, The Bridge established its day treatment program, its first community residences and leased apartments, and its homeless outreach program.
Recovery and New Populations
In the early 1990s, when clients’ basic needs were met, they asked what other opportunities the agency could provide, The Bridge focus began to shift away from just taking care of clients to assisting them in achieving their independent living goals. This was a major shift that placed the concept of recovery at the forefront. During this time, the agency established a number of vocational training and job placement programs, the Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program and its Adult Mental Health Clinic. Over the years, as the profile of our clients has changed, The Bridge has established a number of specialized programs. In addition to homeless services, the agency created specialized treatment programs and housing for people who have co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse and for people who have HIV/AIDS and a mental health condition or substance abuse disorder. The Bridge’s newest special populations are the mentally ill who have been in the criminal justice system and homeless veterans struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.