need your support: Housing advocates for the mentally
ill protest outside the Capitol.
PHOTO: Chris Shields
Leave Us Out in the Cold
advocates for the mentally ill protest in Albany to highlight
the need for reform
for special needs is an extremely important area, and the
Pataki administration did not invest in it,” said state Sen.
Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), a member of the Senate
Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer already has expressed an interest in this
issue, Montgomery said, an issue that former Gov. George Pataki
ignored for too long.
On Tuesday, supporters of housing for the mentally ill gathered
in Albany to call on Spitzer and the state Legislature to
include $100 million in the upcoming state budget to maintain
existing housing for those with mental disabilities and to
fund new construction. Montgomery was one of many public figures
who spoke at the rally.
The event, organized by the New York State Campaign for Mental
Health Housing, began in the well of the Legislative Office
Building in Albany. The area was crowded wall-to-wall with
supporters, most wearing lime-green shirts proclaiming “The
road to recovery starts with a good home.”
The event drew people from around the state as well as many
from the Capital Region. Genevieve Plair, 36, grew up in foster
care due to her mother’s schizophrenia. When she was too old
for foster care and still had nowhere to go, she lived in
a group home.
Plair, who gave up her three children due to her own mental
illness, now lives in a homeless shelter in Albany. Her current
situation, as well as her history with the financial and emotional
problems caused by mental illness, is what led her to Tuesday’s
rally. Plair herself is in need of housing; she said she must
be out of the homeless shelter by April 1.
very difficult trying to find an apartment,” she said. “I
just don’t want to live in a rat trap.” Plair wants a decent
place to live where her children can come to visit and be
comfortable. “I don’t want some place where there are roaches
or mice crawling around.”
Likewise, Schenectady resident Roy Neville, who spoke at the
event, has experience with the need for housing for the mentally
ill. Neville has two children with schizophrenia, one in Albany
and one in Schenectady, who live in housing provided by nonprofit
groups. Neville stresses the importance of housing as the
backbone to a stable life. “It’s made all the difference in
the world for my two kids, and all the others who have a stable
place to live,” he said. “They can do OK.”
He said that different illnesses and different situations
require a wide variety of options. More options would give
the mentally disabled “a chance to be as normal as the rest
of us and get along with other people, get some insight, be
voters, be workers and good neighbors,” he said. “We don’t
want people in institutions.”
Neville is grateful that his children are lucky enough to
have apartments provided by nonprofit mental-health groups,
but recognizes that many are less fortunate. “It’s a good
system,” he said. “It’s just not enough for everybody.”
Currently there are more than 10,000 homeless New Yorkers
suffering from mental illness. Thousands of others are living
in shelters, hospitals, or adult homes. The Campaign for Mental
Health Housing said that 35,000 new units are needed.
the previous administration, the Office of Mental Health commissioner
was brought in with a clear mandate that OMH was not in the
housing business, and housing was not an issue that they should
concern themselves with,” said campaign chairman Steve Coe.
“So there was no attention paid to the issue. In the last
three of four years, nothing has moved forward.”
This inaction motivated the group to stage Tuesday’s event,
the largest gathering for the issue that Coe has seen in 30
years. He says that almost 1,600 people registered to attend
the event, which featured numerous speakers from the Legislature
and culminated with a rally in front of the Capitol.
A megaphone was passed around on the steps of the Capitol,
and when one attendee asked how many members of the crowd
had ended up in an adult home due to their mental illness,
the crowd responded with a sizeable amount of raised hands.
The same was true when the crowd was asked about being forced
to live in homeless shelters and hospitals.
Before marching around the building, supporters arranged themselves
in the shape of a house, hoping to make the image visible
from the windows of the Capitol building. Someone shouted
to Gov. Spitzer, in absentia, to please “not be another Gov.
Pataki.” That seemed to be the sentiment among supporters:
hope for change in the future, but still a fear of being let
down by the state once again.
a widely expected move, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)
officially announced her intention to seek the
Democratic nomination for president Saturday,
putting herself in the running with fellow U.S.
Sens. Barack Obama (Illinois), Joe Biden (Delaware)
and Christopher Dodd (Connecticut), as well as
U.S. Rep Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), former vice-president
nominee John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson, among others. The former first lady
said in a video on her Web site that she will
spend the next two years “doing everything in
my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can
do. But only a new president will be able to undo
Bush’s mistakes and restore our hope and optimism.”
Don’t Think He Likes Us
reelected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lashed
out at Washington once again Saturday when he
told U.S. officials to “go to hell, gringos” on
his weekly TV and radio show. Chavez is unhappy
with Washington’s concern that he has too much
concentrated power, sparked by legislation expected
to pass this week giving Chavez an 18-month window
in which he can pass laws by decree. Chavez also
called Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice “missy”
and attacked U.S. policy in the Middle East.
New York Times reported Monday that in 2007,
pornography film studios are preparing to release
their new and old movies on high-definition DVDs.
The HD-DVD format—which renders even the tiniest
details visible—has brought new challenges for
porn stars who can’t hide from the camera. They’ve
armed themselves with extra makeup and self-tanner
to cover cellulite, pimples, stretch marks, etc.
The prospect of HD porn doesn’t appeal to actress
Stormy Daniels. “I’m not 100-percent sure why
anyone would want to see their porn in HD,” she
Speaker in the House
George Bush began his State of the Union address
by nudging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call
order to a room that was applauding him. He then
congratulated Pelosi for being the first female
speaker of the House. Pelosi stood when Bush spoke
of supporting the troops, and remained seated—so
did about half the room—when he spoke of a troop
surge in Iraq. Her actions seemed to dominate
the mood of the room.
Learn About Sex
to bring comprehensive sex ed to New York gets another look
Although New York currently reports some of the highest teen
pregnancy and sexually-transmitted-disease statistics in the
country, it is one of several states that do not require schools
to teach sex-education courses. The decision about whether
to mandate sex education lies with localities and individual
school districts. For districts and localities that choose
to require sex education, that decision typically is accompanied
by the assumption of all costs associated with training, staffing
and curriculum supplies. That is, unless they choose programs
with an abstinence-only focus.
In an effort to increase students’ access to comprehensive,
medically accurate sex education, a group of advocates and
legislators gathered at the Legislative Office Building in
Albany Tuesday to announce the reintroduction of the Healthy
Teens Act. The bill, which never made it to the governor’s
desk during the previous two sessions, would create a state
grant-program pool from which districts and other organizations
could apply for funds to institute age-appropriate sex-education
Of the millions of dollars the state makes available for sex
education, the largest portion is available exclusively to
abstinence-only programs. Each year, the federal government
provides New York with millions of dollars earmarked for programs
with an abstinence-only focus. By accepting the funds, the
state is required to match a certain amount of the federal
sum with state dollars. In 2005, the federal contribution
and state-matching amount resulted in approximately $9.7 million
in funding for abstinence-only education, according to Family
Planning Advocates of New York State.
has ever shown that abstinence-only [education] works,” said
JoAnn Smith, president of FPA. “The studies show that it doesn’t,
and what does work is comprehensive sex education, sex education
which, of course, does talk about abstinence but also does
not abandon young people who become sexually active.”
The bill introduced Tuesday in both houses of the state Legislature
is the same bill that was introduced in 2005 and 2006, but
it has a new Senate sponsor: Sen. George Winner (R-Elmira).
During both the 2005 and 2006 sessions, the Assembly passed
the legislation with bipartisan support. The legislation failed
to pass the Senate, however, once dying in the health committee
and, most recently, passing committee but never receiving
a Senate vote.
has been significant opposition from religious organizations
and the Catholic Church,” explained Winner, a member of the
Senate health committee. He noted pressure from these organizations
to not expand sex education beyond abstinence-only instruction
as a significant roadblock.
While FPA ultimately would like comprehensive sex education
to be made available to every student in the state, the Healthy
Teens bill is offered as a compromise and alternative to a
frankly, what we’ve seen is that the schools are very stressed,”
Smith said. “They have an enormous amount of responsibilities,
and if you tell them you have to do something but you don’t
give them the funds to help them accomplish it, you’re really
playing a trick both on the schools and on the students. In
order to make this work, we felt we needed to work with communities
that wanted to do it, and we had to give them resources in
order to make it work right.”
If the bill passes, the amount of available grant money would
be subject to annual appropriations and awarded based on a
set of criteria that takes into consideration the teen pregnancy
and STD rates in the applicant community.
a Matter of Civility
advocates say 10 years has been long enough to go so underfunded
New York state is failing to provide for the basic rights
of its poor, said Anne Erickson of Empire Justice Center,
by its continual failure to provide adequate funding for those
firms and agencies fighting for civil-legal rights.
On Thursday, representatives of the New York State Equal Justice
Commission gathered in the Legislative Office Building in
Albany to announce the release of its report Expanding
Access to Justice: New York’s Next Challenge and to call
upon the new governor to make civil-legal services a priority
in his administration. The commission is composed of nearly
two dozen law firms and agencies—including local and state
bar associations and community representatives—concerned with
providing free legal services to the 2.8 million people living
at or below the poverty line in New York. These services include
assistance in all aspects of civil matters: housing, welfare,
disability, and family law.
The commission is asking Gov. Eliot Spitzer to allow “a permanent
Access to Justice fund at a level of $50 million dollars”
in his first budget, to designate an agency that will oversee
this fund and to create a home within the executive branch
for civil-legal-service providers.
New York trails most of its neighbors, and many other states,
in its funding for civil-legal services. According to the
American Bar Association, in 2006 New York provided only $2.54
per poor person of funding for these services. In comparison,
New Jersey provided $23.44 per poor person and Minnesota provided
are just trying to get back to where we were,” said Lillian
Moy, with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.
“We are just trying to get back to where—10 years ago—the
chief judge said we needed to be.”
Moy is referring to a 1998 report, commissioned by Chief Judge
Judith S. Kaye and completed by the Legal Services Project,
in which it was determined that the state would need to provide
$40 million to serve the basic legal needs of the poor in
New York state.
At the current funding level, $6.8 million, Moy said, her
firm will face another year of frustrating inability to meet
all of the demands of the community. “We simply cannot provide
for the majority of people that need our services, and we
have to say ‘no’ to people a lot,” she said. “That is the
hard part. . . . We have to limit the number of calls we take
so we can maintain the quality of service we provide.”
This is a big drain on her staff, she said, constantly having
to say “no.”
According to a report released by the Legal Services Corporation
in 2005, 13,305 people in New York were turned away from legal
aid within a two-month period. Extrapolate that number over
a full year, and nearly 80,000 people with legitimate need
were denied aid.
working the front desk at Legal Aid has to be one of the hardest
jobs in the world,” Moy said. Many days, her office has to
stop taking new clients by 10 AM.
this doesn’t go away,” she said. “Advocates are always faced
with the limitations. But the consequences of our not helping
can be really drastic. They lose their housing, or they can’t
get divorced from a batterer. They can’t qualify for health
care or Medicaid that they really need.”
When talking about state funding of civil-legal services during
the Pataki administration, said Erickson, the process can
be summed in one word: chaotic.
the past 10 or so years in New York, we have approached funding
civil-legal services basically as a ‘super’ member item by
the Assembly majority,” Erickson said. “They would try to
set aside a chunk of funding, and line items in the budget
would provide funding.”
Though she said it is grateful for the Assembly’s help, this
form of funding always left the civil-legal community vulnerable.
In 1998, Gov. George Pataki vetoed all of the monies in member
items that would have flowed to civil-legal services. Last
year, the governor vetoed these Assembly member items again,
but both houses overrode the veto unanimously.
is always touch-and-go,” Erickson said. “But now, with this
new governor, what we are saying is now is a new day. Now
is the day. We need a new approach. We need a policy approach
to civil-legal services. We need an office of justice. We
need somebody in the executive branch who will be in charge
of these services.”
are barely meeting 20 percent of the need,” Erickson continued.
“We have been in the trenches scraping and fighting, putting
things together by glue. We need some stable core funds where
we can start to meet the community need. We will still go
after grants, contracts, foundations and whoever else we can
shake a stick at. We just need to core operating funds.”
Will the Spitzer administration be a supporter? Erickson and
Moy can’t say for sure. But they believe that Spitzer is open
to the idea, and he has proven that he is dedicated to justice.
have had some good meetings, but I guess it is not over till
it is over,” Moy said, and laughs. “I think he [Spitzer] really
gets the issue.”
loose ends this week-