Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear stories from faculty members at UNC and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on 97.9 The Hill WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Featured this week on “Focus Carolina” is Amy Blank Wilson — an associate professor and The Prudence F. and Peter J. Meehan Early Career Distinguished Scholar in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wilson works to improve how mental health services are provided to people with serious mental illness, and as part of her work at UNC, she is currently helping to develop a community of “tiny homes” in rural Chatham County that will allow people with mental illness to live independently.

“What I have seen is, especially in my field of research by not including people with lived experience, we’re not building interventions necessarily that they want or need,” said Wilson. “…One of the focuses of my career has been on how to ensure that we include the voices of people experiencing problems that we’re trying to help try to elevate so that we can all try to see and understand and learn with them.”

Through her career, Wilson has examined the forces that affect people with mental illness from all walks of life. Citing “tendency to focus on provider views” rather than the lived experiences of patients, her current project in Chatham County is an attempt to provide the independence and dignity to a population that often goes without.“People are really caught in this fight for survival, and you can’t thrive until you’re sure you can survive,” said Wilson. “We are really good at some very advanced clinical services that are really important in people’s eyes, like advances in medicine, and we have some state of the art mental health services here in Chapel Hill.”

Soon after Wilson became involved with the Tiny Homes Village at the Farm at Penny Lane, she was selected from the faculty to receive a C. Felix Harvey Award, which honors faculty whose work directly and positively impacts constituencies outside the University. The award enabled her to lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers and service providers in a mixed-methods process evaluation that aimed to determine the best approach for the design and development of the Tiny Homes and surrounding community.

“The goal was to have a community of homes for people with mental illness because the thinking is that, at least for some people with mental illness, they want to live in community with each other,” said Wilson. “That would provide benefits in terms of their health and wellbeing and mental health services and we respect that and that’s why we’re only building 15.”

Wilson’s work on this project led to her appointment as the Co-director of the Tiny Homes Village. She is currently overseeing all aspects of this project in conjunction Thava Mahadevan, the Director and founder of the Tiny Homes Village. This includes the design, development and funding of the Tiny Homes Village.

“We say we want to create a lot of support,” said Wilson. “In-roads, in and out of the community, both physically and virtually, so that people can be in the community and have the community. And so that’s why we actually say tiny homes are huge for people to serious my last, because it’s many ways a huge step forward for them.”