November 2008
By Tiffany Satchell
Staff Writer

Steve Sorel and Ashley Pride pictured in Gateway’s Day Room

Steve Sorel and Ashley Pride pictured in Gateway’s Day Room

According to Gateway Homes residents, the answer is no.

The Richmond VOICE recently toured the facility, which is a non-profit organization that assists persons with mental illnesses transition back into society.

Many referrals to Gateway are from the criminal justice system or community mental health centers such as the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.

While on this tour The VOICE spoke one-on-one with mental illness residents about their experiences. They all agreed that incarceration wasn’t the life they want to live again.

Anthony Allen, a 14-month resident who was a patient of Central State Hospital before coming to Gateway, shares that in the last four years he has been to two jails and two prisons- one being Red Onion State Prison- a maximum security facility with a 24-hour lockdown. He says that Gateway has helped him a lot. “I’m around people going through the same type of thing I’m going through. “It seems like it took longer on the streets for me to pull myself together than it did in here,” Allen said. He adds that he has become a mature individual and learned to have respect for himself. Allen has learned a trade in landscaping while at Gateway.

The home, which was started by a group of family members in 1983, serves mostly residents who have schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. White residents are the majority while minorities make up about 21 percent.

Gateway’s mission is to be responsive to the evolving needs of individuals living with mental illnesses. Residents are taught life skills such as budgeting, how to cook and clean, manage their medications, find employment, and re-enter school. Currently, Gateway Homes has 60 residents with only two of them having the means to pay for the services. Churches, Social Security benefits, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Medicaid cover the non-paying residents.

Resident Jeremy Pretty has been at Gateway for 2 months after being transferred from a detention center in Alexandria. Pretty said he is now taking life seriously and does not want to return to incarceration. “This is way better than getting locked up. This is like the best ever program for me,” said Pretty. Pretty has learned at Gateway that he has a lot to live for.

Once residents have completed steps in the program, they are able to move on with more responsibility into the apartments located on the campus.

Resident Steve Sorel, who was at one time in the Richmond City Jail, says Gateway has a structured environment with no time for trouble. “This is much better than being in bad neighborhoods and being influenced by [certain] people,” said Sorel. Sorel plans to attend John Tyler Community College and study computers.

Daniel Herr, executive director of Gateway Homes, believes the program has helped those that have passed through. “We used to just have maybe one or two a year graduating. Now there is a dozen or more that move out every year on their own,” he said.