Politico: Supportive housing advocates make case for more funding

By Nick Niedzwiadek
12/11/2017 04:21 PM EDT

ALBANY — There continues to be unmet need in New York State for supportive housing for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, advocates testified Monday at an Assembly committee hearing.

Supportive housing services provide people the opportunity to live in the community, rather than in an institutional setting, and receive medical or other social services there. It allows them to be more integrated into society than they otherwise would be, and in some cases it is a more cost-effective form of housing than a state-run facility or jail.

Toni Lasicki, executive director for the Association for Community Living, spoke about the lack of access in urgent terms.

“Make no mistake about it, New York is facing a dilemma: We can either be a national model for how states can protect a population that so desperately needs support, or watch the system collapse and become an example of what can go wrong,” she said. “The funding issues are so acute that the existence of the programs [is] in jeopardy.”

Increasing funding to build and operate more supportive housing units, and units that can meet a wide spectrum of specialized needs, was the chief concern. But a close second was whether the two state agencies principally charged with overseeing these programs — the Office of Mental Health and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities — maintained sufficiently accurate data to guide decisions.

“There continues to be considerable concern about accuracy of the data, [and] this lack of confidence in the data undermines confidence in the broader effort to resolve the residential issue,” said Mark van Voorst, executive director of The Arc New York, an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I’m not sure that if OPWDD was given all the operating funding it could conceivably need, these funds would actually solve the problem,” van Voorst testified.

Kerry Delaney, OPWDD’s acting commissioner, said wait lists aren’t the best way of tracking demand for supportive housing.

“It’s not necessarily a reflection of current need,” she said, noting the rolls have shrunk in recent years nonetheless.

Several groups at the hearing have banded together and formed a coalition called Bring It Home, which is pushing for increased state funding to help staff and operate these community-based housing facilities.

"We are part of this campaign because we know what is happening to the existing stock of mental health housing in New York,” Glenn Liebman of the Mental Health Association of New York State said at the hearing. “Structures are falling apart, resources are strained and staff is dramatically under-compensated for the work that they are doing.”

A similar effort last year successfully lobbied for increased state support to help pay direct care employees, who often work in supportive housing programs.

But the state is facing a $4.4. billion shortfall that must be closed in next year’s budget, and the sweeping tax bill working through Congress could, if it passes, also impact next year’s spending plan. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Forestburgh), chair of the Mental Health Committee, said she hoped that legislative leaders would be able to find the money to help fund supportive housing.

“Housing is critical, and supporting these folks is important, and I think that we neglected [them] for a long time and we have a lot of catch-up to do,” she said at the hearing. “I’m praying that things will turn around.”

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