A bronze nameplate on the empty desk, which still smells faintly of fresh varnish, spells out the future of Omni House Inc.
Glen Burnie psychiatrist Munir Ozdemir plunked down his sign the day he moved into the new office. Though small, his gesture makes an important statement.
Ozdemir is a linchpin in a move for greater independence by Omni House, a Glen Burnie-based rehabilitation program for the mentally ill.
The private, non-profit organization just finished converting a vacant room into a clinic to offer in-house psychiatric services. Most of the 80 Omni House clients currently go for therapy to the county Mental Health Center, a few blocks away from the group's headquarters on 3rd Avenue.
Ozdemir is the first doctor hired by the organization.
"Right now, we're constantly running papers back and forth," said Lois Miller, who founded Omni House in 1981 and serves as executive director.
"We want to have the service on site because it would give us better communication and better oversight. That way, we could try to spot any regression before it occurs and, hopefully, stop crises before they happen."
Although she hired Ozdemir only part time to start a counseling program, Miller hopes eventually to provide individual and group therapy for nearly all Omni House members. She has applied for a state license to run a full-fledged clinic, which would permit billing the health insurance programs that pay for psychiatric care for people diagnosed as chronically mentally ill.
Miller also wants to gain more financial freedom for Omni House by buying homes instead of leasing apartments for the 41 people in its residential program.
The organization is seeking $50,000 in community development block grants to purchase its first home.
Most of the schizophrenic or manic-depressive people living in apartments leased by Omni House have a history of being hospitalized, Miller said. They usually move into an apartment at the Americana, Hidden Woods or Rainbow View complexes after being released from Crownsville.
To prepare people who have a history of mental breakdowns for daily life outside an institution, the organization runs a semi-independent residential program. Patients pay the rent and utilities, but receive help with such tasks as shopping for groceries and cooking dinner.
"They're often scared by simple things because they've been hospitalized so long," said Miller, who started the organization after seeing "people who I found were basically very bright languishing in institutions."
She completed an internship at Crownsville State Hospital determined to offer the mentally ill a chance to rejoin a community and lead more fulfilling lives.
By buying houses instead of renting apartments for $450 to $500 a month, Omni House eventually could save money and provide greater freedom for its members, she said.
The organization tried to buy one house in Brooklyn Park a few months ago, but failed after the owner died and his relatives refused to complete the sales agreement. Now, Omni House is looking for another inexpensive house and vying with 29 other Anne Arundel community groups for a piece of the $2 million block grant pie.
"Eventually, I'd like to get all of my people out of apartments and into housing, because I think it's more normal," Miller said.
Since competition for the federally financed block grants is fierce, she also is lobbying for low-income loans offered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Owning homes and offering in-house therapy will give the organization greater control over its services, said Mark Buchanan, who supervises a day program that's designed to teach job skills.
A few of the 41 people in the residential program go to school or work at entry-level jobs, but most have to relearn skills forgotten in the hospital. Together with another 40 patients who live with their parents or relatives, they cook, clean, answer phones, type letters and keep up the center.
Five members of the maintenance group built Ozdemir's office, Buchanan said. They hung dry wall, installed carpeting and even hooked up the plumbing.
"We're about people getting back to work," he said. "If they can go for counseling here, and get job training here, they'll be able to get back in the community even faster."