Oasis Housing began with two women from the Utah State Hospital moving into Sharon Evan’s newly remodeled basement in February of 2017. Sharon shared her vision then of providing not just housing for those with mental illness, but helping them grow and blossom. Four years later, that growth is steady and gratifying. Like any gardening endeavor, it also has a few pesky weeds that continually threaten the crop.
Oasis has served 28 residents, including men who are housed, 8-10 at a time, in their men’s home in the same neighborhood. The women’s home has expanded to another floor of Sharon’s home, boosting the capacity there to six women. More impressive than the expanded facilities are the growth and progress residents experience. Not a single resident has returned to the Utah State Hospital, they’ve had no incidence of suicide, and no COVID infections of staff or residents. Except for two residents who required long-term nursing care, all former residents progressed to having their own apartments with necessary support services. Those are enviable outcomes, bolstered by support services and monitoring medications. This gardener, along with her assistant/husband, Jesus, knows what she’s about.
She loves serving these people and recognizes the incredibly difficult challenges most have faced including family situations and homelessness. She sees them as unique individuals worthy of respect and welcomes them to a family style of living. Sharon points out that they have also grown and blossomed by opening their home and hearts to these unique and resilient souls.
We celebrate birthdays with cakes, cards, and small gifts. We decorate and celebrate Christmas. Some of our residents had never had a Christmas Tree … or a Christmas stocking. It is satisfying to fill in some of the gaps in their life and to help them get ready to remain in the community long term. I am unapologetically involved with them emotionally. I sincerely love them as brothers and sisters. (Some are easier to love than others). Our life is never boring. I feel that this is my assignment from Heavenly Father at this time in my life and I try to fulfill it the best I can.
The weeds and thorns that constantly threaten the growth and very survival of Oasis have become increasingly troublesome during the pandemic. COVID stimulated their growth like a mega fertilizer. Sharon explained it slowed down placements to fill openings as residents moved out and dried up the already-scarce housing assistance funds that were channeled to housing for those affected directly by the pandemic.
It does always circle back to funds through pandemic or no pandemic. The rent amount provided through an individual’s disability or the county housing subsidy covers basic rent and most utilities but is not enough to cover the food and staffing needed to serve our residents. We juggle the funds we have. I use my credit cards far more than I should and am not able to have some of the staff I need.
The dream is to have an apartment complex in which we can have individual studio apartments for singles, larger apartments for families in which a breadwinner has a mental illness, and support services are on site. A cafeteria, caseworkers, medication management, laundry facilities, a game room, and outside areas for recreation and gardening. It would be similar to what assisted living is for senior citizens. I have a real estate developer who will build it when we have the funding.
Sharon has a ready list of how others can join them to help individuals who face the challenge of mental illness:
- Donations of dish and laundry soap, toilet paper, disposable plates, bowls, cups, and plastic silverware
- Twin sheets, blankets, and bedspreads
- A volunteer to coach her on computer work and perhaps assist a few hours a week
- Ideas for fundraising: grant writing, activity ideas, possible individuals or groups who might contribute to support and prevent homelessness for those with mental illness
- Donations by Venmo, PayPal or check. For details email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text Sharon at 385-218-9721
- Amazon shoppers can help by clicking on this link to shop Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/81-3798334
First and foremost, Sharon maintains you can help cultivate this garden by opening your mind and heart to be kind and accepting of everyone, including those who suffer from emotional and mental illness through no fault of their own. As our monthly tenet states, “We are each unique and innately worthy of respect.”