New York mental health advocates say funding is needed for housing with staff support

Several hundred advocates for better mental health treatment for New Yorkers rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol for more housing with staff support.

The New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services said housing is its top priority. Another is money for police training to de-escalate confrontations with people with mental illness.

"Housing is essential to recovery," NYAPRS Executive Director Harvey Rosenthal said. "If you don't have stable housing, you don't have recovery."

The coalition of people who use and provide mental health services is calling for an $82 million investment in the statewide rate adjustment for subsidized housing to address "a crisis" from rising prices. Advocates said there are about 38,000 housing units under the state Office of Mental Health, but inflation since 1990 has eroded funding by about 50 percent.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration has proposed a $17 million increase in the upcoming fiscal year, including 4 percent cost-of-living increases for some staff authorized by law last year. The overall state funding for these programs is about $500 million.

The association said there's a need for 35,000 more state-supported housing units — 30,000 in New York City and 5,000 upstate — citing the record number of 60,000 homeless individuals in the city, many with psychiatric disabilities. The supportive housing would be for people with psychiatric disabilities or AIDS, homeless people regardless of disability and the elderly.

The governor's office has proposed adding 300 annually over a decade.

Among criminal justice issues, the coalition called for adding $1 million in funding for police crisis intervention teams, meaning officers would get 40 hours of training on ways to de-escalate confrontations with people in mental health crises that can easily otherwise result in violence or arrest.

The Legislature last year approved $400 million used for training police in Auburn, Binghamton, Clarkstown, Hempstead, Newburgh, Syracuse, Utica and St. Lawrence County.

Steve Coe, executive director of Community Access, a group that advocates for people with psychiatric disabilities, said New York City has plans to establish two drop-off centers and train 5,000 police officers in crisis intervention.