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Although mother nature threw us a curveball, the Bring It Home Mental Health Housing Forum  on November 15, 2018 in New York City was a great success. Nearly 100 hearty New Yorkers gathered to learn about the Bring It Home campaign and how they can help the over 40,000 individuals living in community-based NYS mental health housing programs who are at risk of losing their stability due to a lack of funding for the programs that aids them in their recovery.

We first heard from Ralph Fasano, Executive Director of housing provider Concern for Independent Living, who spoke about the history of community-based mental health housing programs in NYS & some of the issues facing housing providers due to limited funding.  “NYS has such a rich history of providing this type of (mental health) housing. We’ve built some of the best models in the country, but unfortunately the state hasn’t recognized that when you create housing, you need to fund it adequately to keep up with the constantly rising costs of utilities, maintenance, staff fringe benefits, etc. Because of inadequate reimbursement from New York State, we have had to reduce the number of staff in these essential programs, which then affects the services of the residents.”

Jim Mutton, Director of NYC Operations at Concern for Independent Living, highlighted the direct impact of underfunding on NYC housing programs and outlined the need for adequate funding. “The needs for (mental health) housing programs greater more than ever. We have more homeless individuals living in NYC than we have ever had. However, (mental health) housing programs are now about 40% behind the cost of inflation. The challenge that we have today is that we need to show NYS voters and legislators that our programs are in dire need of additional funding & they must increase the reimbursement rates to match today’s costs.”

Attendees were lucky to hear from two individuals who were former residents in housing programs who now work as Tenant Leaders at NYC provider Community Access. Eugene Smith told his story about how mental health housing turned his life around. “I was living with trauma, had no place to go, and was living out of my backpack. I’ve been living in Community Access’ supportive housing program for over 10 years and have not been back in jail since I found their program. I have found independence while living in my beautiful apartment and I’ve also been training to become a Peer Specialist so I can help my fellow residents in their recovery.”

Attendees were also briefed about how they can assist the campaign in both traditional and social media. Melissa Mansfield, Vice-President of SKDKnickerbocker, spoke about Bring It Home’s new project “Humans of Mental Health Housing (HOMHH)” which will highlight the numerous stories of current & former residents and their families, as well as staff who work in mental health housing programs. “HOMHH was created to increase awareness of the human impact of NYS mental health housing programs to both the public and elected officials because unless someone or someone’s family member has lived or worked in the field, most people wouldn’t’ know about how these programs change lives. These people aren’t just lines in a budget. They are New Yorkers who need help in their recovery & their jobs.”

Lastly, Marc Greenberg, Executive Director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness & Housing spoke to attendees about the importance of mental health housing programs to the NYS faith community and also introduced Wook Choi, founder of Oogie Art Studio, and some students of hers who created beautiful art pieces based on the importance of mental health care. The art was displayed at the event and some of the pieces will be loaned to mental health housing facilities to enhance the homes for their residents.

Thanks to Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator at Community Access, for promoting and gathering volunteers for the event. Other thanks goes out to Reverend Chris Mietlowski for graciously allowing the campaign to use the Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church as a venue, and to everyone who spoke and attended that evening. 

Keep an eye out for future events and let’s continue to gather to urge New York State to Bring It Home!

Click here to download a brief social media guidance document with messages you can use to promote Bring it Home’s ask of “Better Funding for Better Care”.