Statewide rallies are being held weekly demanding Gov. Andrew Cuomo increase state funding for mental health housing. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the Bring It Home Coalition' is staging rallies each Thursday in Long Island, New York City, Syracuse and here in Buffalo, targeting state lawmakers.
“We’re just not getting the kind of response that we really need from them, because these are their programs – they fund them and they should fund them adequately,” stated Toni Lasicki, executive director of the Association for Community Living in Albany.
The organization is working as part of the Bring It Home Coalition to draw attention to the issue of housing among those with mental illness.
A rally was held again Thursday outside of the State Office Building on Court Street in Buffalo. Although Cuomo is proposing $10 million for community-based mental health housing in his Justice Agenda budget, Lasicki tells WBFO News it's not enough to sustain current housing units.
“As they bring new units online at a higher rate, we’re afraid that the providers will respond to that. They will develop that new housing, but they will cease to operate the existing housing,” responded Lasicki.
Lasicki said around 40,000 mental health housing units from Buffalo to Binghamton to Long Island, and all across the entire state, are at risk of closing because of decades of inadequate funding.
“For a vast majority of the last 30 years they haven’t gotten any increases, so they’ve lost an enormous amount of money to inflation,” explained Lasicki.
WBFO News asked Lasicki to give a profile of those clients who are eligible for the housing.
“A person has to have a major mental illness. That means they have to have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder and they have to be functionally impaired by that illness,” replied Lasicki.
"Many come out of a state psychiatric institution or they might come out of prison or jails or they might come off the streets or they might come from their own families. We have a lot of people who have very aging parents, who are in their 80s, who have taken care of their loved ones who are now maybe 55. Some of those people really don’t know how to take their own medications, so until they can really learn how to take their own medications and mange themselves in an apartment – cook, clean, do some laundry, navigate the community – they really need some extra support and that’s what two of these models of housing are designed to do.”
The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) responded to WBFO's request for an interview with a written statement. It says the governor's proposed budget includes “significant resources to preserve and expand supported housing, and to help people with mental illness get the services they need to live safely and independently in the community.”
Here is additional information provided to WBFO from the OMH:
Governor Cuomo’s Budget proposal for 2019-2020 includes:
- An additional $10 million for existing supported housing and single residence occupancy programs statewide. Since State FY 2014, annual funding to enhance support for these existing housing programs has increased by more than $50 million.
- $60 million in capital funding to maintain and preserve community-based residential facilities.
- An additional $10 million for specialized supports, such as peer support and in-reach, to engage individuals with mental illness who require a higher level of care to transition and live successfully in the community. These resources will be utilized for individuals currently residing in impacted adult homes.
- The Governor’s Budget also continues to support the expansion of community-based programs serving individuals in independent, less restrictive settings that are closer to family and other natural supports.
- Additionally, Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative (ESSHI) has entered its third phase. ESSHI is a component of the Governor’s historic $20 billion five-year housing plan that will develop 6,000 supportive housing units in New York State. ESSHI provides awards of up to $25,000 per unit in services and operating funding, and targets housing for vulnerable populations, including homeless individuals and families with disabilities or other life challenges.
- NYS leads the nation in the number of units of housing for individuals with a serious mental illness with more than 43,000 units.