January 13, 2013; Source:Star-Ledger

Does “one stop shopping” work for consumers of mental health services? In New Jersey, Morris County is hoping to woo nonprofit mental health groups to relocate to the same building with the idea that their proximity and collaboration will both save money and enhance services. Morris County is moving ahead with its plans to build this nonprofit mental health mall and are now seeking nonprofit groups to rent space at the complex. So far, they say, more than 15 nonprofits have expressed an interest in moving to the site.

The county’s St. Clare’s Behavioral Health Services has already relocated to the venue and is providing mental health counseling and psychiatric services there. Morris County bought a 300-acre site from the state in 2003 for one dollar with the intention of using it for nonprofit and recreational use. The county demolished many of the buildings but found the building that would be home to the proposed nonprofit mall sound enough for renovation.

Morris County Assistant Administrator Mary Jo Buchanan tells the Star-Ledger that this plan makes sense in light of the growing demand for more “cost-effective, shared services.” In this case, the county saves money by not having to pay rent elsewhere for St. Clare’s Behavioral Health Services. St. Clare’s spokeswoman Stephanie Galloway says mental health patients also benefit: “St. Clare’s is seeking to provide greater access to care…By putting many organizations together, it provides better access to a variety of services.”

It seems like the nonprofit mall concept is a winner for everyone: taxpayers, mental health providers and those who use the services. The wisdom of the Morris County plan is supported by the experiences of other nonprofits that are sharing space. On its website, the Nonprofit Centers Network argues that space is vitally important to the nonprofit sector, but difficult economic times and the lack of real estate organizations focused on the nonprofit sector make it hard for nonprofits to find adequate space. The Nonprofit Centers Network sees shared collaborative spaces (or “multi-tenant nonprofit centers”) as one solution to this two-pronged problem. It offers advice on starting such a center and a directory of nonprofit centers across the United States. The Foundation Center’s Grant Space website also presents information about shared space. –Mary Jo Draper