Skip to main content

Crisis Housing

Crisis Housing






Crisis housing (or crisis residential services) are supervised short-term residential alternatives to hospitalization for adults with serious mental illnesses or children with serious emotional or behavioral disturbances.


The course of most serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and borderline personality disorder ) is cyclical, typically characterized by periods of relative well-being, interrupted by periods of deterioration or relapse. When relapse occurs, the individual generally exhibits florid symptoms that require immediate psychiatric attention and treatment. More often than not, relapse is caused by the individual’s failure to comply with a prescribed medication regimen (not taking medication regularly, not taking the amount or dose prescribed, or not taking it all). Relapse can also be triggered during periods of great stress or can even occur spontaneously, without any marked changes in lifestyle or medication regimen. When these crises recur, the goal of treatment is to stabilize the individual as soon as possible, since research suggests that relapsing patients are also more likely to attempt suicide.


Over the past 35 years, crisis housing programs have evolved as short-term, less costly, and less restrictive residential alternatives to hospitalization. Intended to divert individuals from emergency rooms, jails, and hospitals into community-based treatment settings, they offer intensive crisis support to individuals and their families. Services include diagnosis. assessment, and treatment (including medication stabilization); rehabilitation; and links to community-based services. These programs are intended to stabilize the individual as rapidly as possible—usually between 8 and 60 days—so they can return to their home or residence in the community.

Some of the earliest crisis housing programs include Soteria House and La Posada, which began in northern California in the 1970s, and the START (short-term acute residential treatment) program that began in San Diego in 1980. While programs vary from location to location, most offer acute services 24 hours a day in a small noninstitutional residential setting. Adequate structure and supervision is provided by an interdisciplinary team of professionals and other trained workers.

Beginning the day they arrive, residents help develop their own plans for recovery and continued care in the community. Patients receive state-of-the art psychopharmacological treatment and other cognitive-behavioral interventions. Residents are encouraged to play an active role in the operation of the household, including meal preparation. The homelike environment is helpful in lessening the stigma and sense of failure that often occurs when someone needs to return to an inpatient psychiatric unit.

Similarly, in the case of seriously emotionally disturbed children and adolescents, the goal of crisis housing is to avert visits to the emergency room or hospitalization by stabilizing the individual in as normal a setting as possible. Compared to these services for adults, there is typically greater emphasis placed on involving families and schools in planning for community-based care after discharge.

Evaluations of several of these programs suggest that they may provide high-quality treatment and care at a lower cost than hospitals. Crisis housing is not currently available in all communities, however, although it is becoming more widely available.

See alsoBipolar disorder; Borderline personality disorder; Crisis intervention; Schizophrenia.



Fields, Steven L. “Progress Foundation, San Francisco.” Chapter 4 in Alternatives to the Hospital for Acute Psychiatric Treatment. R. Warner, ed. Clinical Practice Series No. 32. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1995.

Torrey, E. Fuller. Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Consumers and Providers, 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999. Available at <>.


Burns, Barbara J., Kimberly Hoagwood, and Patricia J. Mrazek. “Effective Treatment for Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 2.4 (1999): 223–24.

“Gold Award: A Community-Based Program Providing a Successful Alternative to Acute Psychiatric Hospitalization.” Psychiatric Services 52, no. 10 (October 2001): 1383–85.

Goodwin, Renee, and John S. Lyons. “An Emergency Housing Program as an Alternative to Inpatient Treatment for Persons with Severe Mental Illness.” Psychiatric Services 52.1 (Jan. 2001): 92–95.

Hawthorne, W.B., and others. “A Randomized Trial of Short-Term Acute Residential Treatment for Veterans.” Psychiatric Services 56 (2005): 1379–86.

Irene S. Levine, PhD

Emily Jane Willingham, PhD

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Crisis Housing." The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health. . 16 Oct. 2018 <>.

"Crisis Housing." The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health. . (October 16, 2018).

"Crisis Housing." The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health. . Retrieved October 16, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.