In 1995 a group of dedicated mental health professionals and consumer leaders came together to explore developing a drop-in center in East Baltimore. Early proponents of the HOPE center included; Dr. Annelle Primm & Michelle Weaver-Johns of the Johns Hopkins Community Psychiatry Program, Changing Directions, Inc., North Baltimore Center, Irvin Green, William Cannady, and Peg Sullivan of On Our Own of Baltimore.

Following the formation of a steering committee, a needs assessment was undertaken. It was found that there was an interest within the East Baltimore consumer community for a place to come together, share experiences, seek peer support and engage in social activities. Results also found that the meeting place should be free from drugs, alcohol & tobacco, stigma, prejudice, illegal activity, anger & negativity. Most importantly, it was recognized that consumers were interested in, and should take the lead, in developing the drop-in center.

As a result a planning committee was formed by a group of consumers and was led by social worker, Michelle Weaver-Johns. The first meeting was held April 24, 1997, and continued monthly. The group named their effort HOPE in honor of Hope Patterson. She was a dedicated mental health worker in Baltimore who lost her life while traveling between jobs. After trade name complications, the name was expanded to reflect the principles of the group, and became Helping Other People through Empowerment.

In 1998 in collaboration with Sue Diehl of Baltimore Mental Health Systems (BMHS)* they began examining what was needed to move the project forward. This included (1) shifting the meetings from a professional setting at Johns Hopkins to a community setting, (2) connecting with Kate Farenholt of the National Alliance for Mental Illness-Metropolitan Baltimore for additional guidance, (3) establishing a relationship with University of Maryland Baltimore Law School to enlist the aid of students to help them incorporate and attain non-profit status, and (4) responding to a notification of funding availability for new programs.

At this same time BMHS’ was embarking on an effort to develop a seamless continuum of care in Baltimore City to meet needs arising from deinstitutionalization and the explosion in the availability of illegal drugs which significantly contributed to the rising rates of homelessness and incarceration.

Actualizing this was made possible through the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Foundation award. RWJ’s national focus was to inspire cities to identify a responsible system of care for individuals with mental illness who were “lost” in disconnected providers of free standing programs. So BMHS was keenly interested in supporting a grassroots effort that would (1) follow in the footsteps of On Our Own, headed by Peg Sullivan, which traditionally provided socialization and support to individuals who were receiving mental health care from either the private or public sectors, and (2) going a step further to include outreach and support to those in need of housing and/or substance abuse services. In short, it was perfect timing to develop a drop-in center that itself would be the embodiment of a continuum of care that also reflected the efforts being pursued at the city, state and national levels.

By 2000 all of the efforts came together where HOPE was incorporated, attained non-profit status, received funding from BMHS, and secured their 1st physical site at 1426 Fairmount Avenue. Doors opened for consumers in February, 2001. The first board of directors meeting was help April, 2001 and was comprised of 51% consumers.

By 2003 HOPE expanded to include Safe Haven. This is a 20 bed non-traditional residential program that serves individuals who meet the Housing & Urban Developments definition of chronic and persistently homeless and mentally ill. It is a low barrier program that strives to enhance participants daily living skills, stabilize their mental health concerns, when applicable attain sobriety, and ultimately gain permanent housing.

In September 2005 HOPE was presented the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) award. This prestigious nationally recognized honor was one of only 12 granted in the country that year.

Over the ensuing years HOPE has continued to be a leader in the peer-led consumer movement. This would not have been possible without the small dedicated group of case managers, consumers, and believers that set out to meet a need in their community and ended up making history.

*What was BMHS is now a part of Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore