Times Herald Record - Housing in short supply for mentally ill

By Chris McKenna
Times Herald-Record
Posted Jul 9, 2019 at 6:17 PM
Updated Jul 9, 2019 at 6:17 PM

Orange County residents suffering from mental illness and eligible for state-subsidized housing currently have about 525 apartments and places in group homes with varying degrees of supervision that the state is funding in the county.

But an even greater number of people - 718 - were on a county waiting list for housing as of March 1. And mental-health advocates say New York’s longstanding under-funding for those housing types has meant not only a shortage of available slots but staff reductions and low pay for the workers who care for that vulnerable population.

A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and unanimously approved by both legislative chambers last month seeks to correct those problems by forming a commission to study the housing needs of New Yorkers with mental illness and recommend appropriate funding increases for the next budget.

Though a study commission might seem a way to skirt the funding shortfall, advocates and Gunther supported the solution and are hopeful it will make the problems too glaring to ignore.

“I hate ‘study bills,’” Gunther, a Forestburgh Democrat and chairwoman of the Assembly Mental Health Committee, said Tuesday. “But maybe if there’s a study bill, it will be addressed sooner.”

The state Office of Mental Health now funds about 40,000 mental-health beds but needs roughly another 35,000, said Antonia Lasicki, executive director of the Association for Community Living New York State, which represents nonprofits that provide housing and rehabilitation for the mentally ill.

Locally, the state is funding 525 beds in Orange County, 283 in Ulster County and 143 in Sullivan County - a total of 951 apartments and group-home slots in the three counties, according to figures that advocates provided.

The state boosted its annual housing budget by about $10 million each of the last five years, allocating around $920 million this year for all five types of mental-health housing, Lasicki said. What lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo must do now to overcome decades of underfunding, she argued, is bump spending by as much as $170 million - an amount she said most likely would be spread out over five years.

Advocates say one pitfall of the funding shortfall is high turnover among direct-care workers, who earn low salaries for increasingly complex jobs.

The state gives housing providers roughly minimum-wage amounts to pay their workers, and the providers must “find ways to pay more or they would have no staff,” Lasicki said. Some workers assigned to group homes must single-handedly supervise anywhere from eight to 48 clients, dispensing medication, writing service plans and goals for each client, serving meals and handling Medicare and Medicaid paper work.

If signed by Cuomo, the bill sponsored by Gunther and Sen. David Carlucci of Rockland County would create a nine-member appointed commission that would deliver its funding recommendations by October 2020. Advocates hope the work could be done sooner to influence the budget that will be adopted in the spring of 2020.

Nadia Allen, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Orange County, said Tuesday that clients who are waiting for housing slots now are either homeless or living with family members or in some precarious situation, in need of housing to give their lives stability. She said she hopes the study, if it comes to fruition, will get the attention it deserves.

“If you have a heart, in my opinion, once you see it you can’t unsee it,” she said.

Read the article on the Times Herald Record’s website here: https://www.recordonline.com/news/20190709/housing-in-short-supply-for-mentally-ill

Behavioral Health News: Mental Health Housing Workforce Left Short in State Budget

Mental Health Housing Workforce Left
Short in State Budget

By Jim Mutton, LMSW
Director of NYC Operations
Concern for Independent Living, Inc.

Thousands of non-profit employees working in mental health supportive housing programs across the state were left shorthanded again in the 2019-20 State budget this April, despite a year-long advocacy effort with the Bring It Home Campaign (www.bringithomenys.org), a coalition of over 1,000 mental health housing organizations, faith leaders and individuals. A 2.9% Human Service COLA for state funded community programs was deferred for a tenth year and $13 million in hard fought additional funding from the Assembly and Senate to enhance supported housing and SRO programs was removed in final budget negotiations, leaving only a $10 million increase to these programs to help address a cumulative funding shortfall of $162 million. While the $10 million is appreciated, it is not sufficient to solve the crisis that exists in the mental health housing system. The Times Union also reported that millions in funding for agriculture, healthcare, veterans and youth employment programs included in previous state budgets was reduced, shifted to other priorities or eliminated in the first budget since Democrats took over the state Senate.

As the Director of NYC Operations at a 45-year old non-profit which operates numerous mental health supportive housing programs in Brooklyn, the Bronx and on Long Island, I found myself reflecting on how such a momentous effort could go belly up yet again after months of campaigning, hundreds of legislative visits and six weeks of continuous protests in Albany. How could our state government have failed us again, when a mental health supportive housing stock of over 40,000 units now stood with a crumbling infrastructure 40-70% behind the cost of inflation? How could our agency continue to attract a skilled and competent workforce, when direct care positions now paralleled in salary with entry level jobs in the fast food industry or private car for-hire ride sharing services. How could I turn to our dedicated workforce who work 2-3 jobs to stay afloat and battle cycles of burnout and vicarious trauma week in and week out and convince them to stick with this career and not jump ship to hospital and union jobs? To put it in perspective, the $10 million increase in the state supported housing and SRO budget would translate to about $500 per bed and do little but add a few dollars to the biweekly pay checks of case managers and supervisors.

Despite the budget crisis, the housing pipeline hasn’t slowed down. Quite the reverse. The need has never been greater for supportive housing in our city and state and government funders have released a record number of RFP’s. In the past five years, our agency has almost doubled its housing stock to help thousands of individuals and families find a pathway out of poverty, illness and hardship to successful community reintegration and recovery. We were part of the effort to end chronic homelessness for veterans recovering from mental health and substance use challenges on Long Island and now intend to do the same in NYC. 

New capital and operating funding opportunities are needed to address record levels of homelessness and growing institutionalization of mentally ill individuals. In addition, more sensible funding rates to build attractive housing and hopefully reengage and re-energize a new workforce. However, unless these rates are adjusted for the entire mental health housing workforce, it will not be enough to resolve the longstanding erosion that has taken place over the last 30 years. To quote the Bring It Home Campaign website, “Integration works so much better than institutionalization, we know that. We also know that institutionalization is very expensive...” It’s time to recognize that community reinvestment also means workforce preservation and investment.

Read the article in the summer issue of Behavioral Health News here.

Albany Times Union Editorial: A matter of mental health

Editorial: A matter of mental health

June 27, 2019

State lawmakers want a commission to look at whether certain programs for mentally ill people are adequately funded.

Shortchanging these programs affects not just clients, but all New Yorkers.

Since the 1950s, New York has been moving people with serious mental illness out of institutions. The effort had two commendable goals: to integrate these people as much as possible into society, and to reduce the huge cost of institutionalization.

There's every indication, though, that in the state's view, it's no longer enough to save money on institutionalization. There seems to be a new threshold: saving money on deinstitutionalization.

Where that has left the mental health system depends on whom you ask. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration no doubt wants the public to believe it's doing a good job of managing care while working within the governor's spending caps. And mental health advocates say care is suffering.

We all need to know who's right.

The numbers suggest the system is under increasing strain. Over the past decade, state spending on mental health has declined from just under $2 billion to $1.3 billion. If spending had kept up with inflation, it would need to be $2.4 billion today. And that doesn't factor in the growth in the population in the mental health system — more than 770,000, compared with 717,000 in 2011, according to the state's own estimates.

Mental health advocates note that the needs of people entering the system have changed. They're no longer formerly institutionalized patients somewhat used to rules and routines, who were taking only a couple of medications to control their illnesses. Now they tend to come off the streets, require more intensive management and rely on a whole range of drugs. All this is run largely by workers who earn around minimum wage — which, incidentally, is rising under state law, even as state funding doesn't keep up.

Seeking a window onto this situation, the Legislature this year passed a bill — unanimously in both chambers — to have a commission examine one piece of the system: housing for people with mental illness. The state Office of Mental Health contracts with local governments and nonprofits to provide about 40,000 units of supportive housing and services for adults with severe psychiatric disabilities.

Now advocates worry that the governor will veto the bill. Much as he may be reluctant to have an impartial look at consequences of his budget choices, though, Mr. Cuomo should sign it. This is an issue that could affect all New Yorkers, with all sorts of fiscal and social implications — pressure on local governments and taxpayers to make up for state funding cuts, greater pressure on institutions, hospitals, jails, shelters, police and courts, and the danger posed by having severely mentally ill people untreated and on the streets.

It's a matter of human dignity to allow and enable mentally ill people to live in the least restrictive environment possible. And it's a matter of public interest and safety that it be done right, which includes adequate funding. A half-century into this experiment, it's worth knowing if New York is still on that noble track.

Read the editorial on the Albany Times Union's website.

Albany Times Union: Are NY's mental health housing programs at risk?

Are NY's mental health housing programs at risk?

Lawmakers pass bill to study chronic funding, staffing shortfalls

By Bethany Bump Updated 8:21 pm EDT, Wednesday, June 26, 2019

ALBANY — New York lawmakers unanimously passed a bill last week that would force a commission to investigate what advocates say are "ongoing, debilitating" funding shortfalls across the state's mental health housing programs.

The bill, sponsored by Democrats Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, would establish a temporary commission to assess the issue, and make funding recommendations that could be considered in the context of next year's state budget…

Read entire article here.

AP: NY lawmakers urged to add more mental health housing

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Advocates for New Yorkers with mental illness are urging state lawmakers to increase funding for housing for that vulnerable group.

The so-called Bring It Home Coalition was created to push for greater housing resources for people whose mental illness puts them at risk of being homeless. The group has scheduled a rally Tuesday at the state Capitol to highlight their request, which comes as lawmakers are putting together the next state budget.

The coalition says the state has 40,000 housing units currently at risk of closing because of decades of lackluster funding.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included $10 million for community-based mental health housing in his budget proposal. Advocates say much more is needed to address the problem.

Read the story on the Associated Press’ website.

Syracuse Mental Health Advocates March (Again) for Adequate Funding for Housing Programs - WAER Syracuse

About a dozen people marched around the state office building today calling on the governor and lawmakers to properly fund housing programs for those with mental illness.  They’ve been holding these weekly marches for the past month as part of a statewide “bring it home” campaign.  Director of residential programs at CNY Services Tracy Lord-Mortas says the governor’s proposed a $10 million  increase in funding for mental health issues falls far short.

“There are 40,000 units of mental health houses across New York state, so you can imagine that $10 million...also given how far behind inflation we are. We haven’t got any significant increase in over ten years, at least not significant enough increase to get us where we need to be.”

Lord-Mortas says without proper housing, those with mental illness can’t get the support they need, and end up in and out of hospitals and even jail.  Long-time activist Agnes McCray says it can become a vicious cycle. 

“The justice system cannot be the answer. It not the cure all and all. And it’s sad to see how many are there, had nowhere to go, and are back on the street.”

The advocates are hoping lawmakers allocate more funding for mental health housing during the final week of budget negotiations.  The state budget deadline is April first.

Check out the article on WAER’s website.

Rochester First: WROC - 2/28/19 - 'Bring It Home' Coalition rallies for more funding for mental health housing

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) - The "Bring It Home" Coalition held its weekly rally to encourage the governor to add more funding for mental health housing to the budget.

Currently, Governor Cuomo marked $10 million to help community-based housing programs, but inflation has taken a huge chunk and advocates say that is putting people at risk.

"As those property costs go up, what happens is some of the money or a lot of the money has to be taken from services to pay for those increases," explains Doug Cooper, associate executive director. "These are programs that really help people recover from serious mental illness. However, if we do not fund them adequately, they're at risk of going under and people's recovery is at risk."

The group will be protesting every Thursday until the budget is passed.

Watch the video on WROC here.

WXXI News - 2/28/19 - Rally held in Rochester to increase funding for mental health housing

A rally was held outside the Regional Office of the Governor in Rochester in an effort to increase funding for mental health housing programs.

Doug Cooper is the Executive Director of the Association for Community Living, a statewide group that represents programs funded by office of mental health.

Cooper and about a dozen other people were outside on the corner of Liberty Pole Way and Andrews Street advocating to get more funding for mental health housing programs.

Listen to the story on WXXI News here.

A rally was held outside the regional office of the governor in Rochester in an effort to increase funding for mental health housing programs. WXXI’s Caitlin Whyte has more from Andrew Street.

"Its individuals who have in some instances they were hospitalized. They’re now out in the community, they’re working on their recovery and having safe, affordable housing is paramount to being a successful member of the community."

Cooper says they are thankful for the $10 million that is the Governors Justice Agenda includes for this housing now, but that it’s not enough due to inflation.

"As they develop housing, unfortunately they haven’t been given any increases over the years to keep up with inflation. So we have programs that are anywhere from 40 to 75% inflation if you compare to the last 25 years."

Cooper says they will be holding rallies every Thursday morning outside the regional office though at least when the New York state budget is passed

The Rochester event is part of a statewide effort with rallies also happening in Syracuse, Buffalo, Long Island and New York City.