Testimony: Investments to Address a Second Pandemic, the Mental Health Crisis, in NYC - NAMI-NYC

Testimony: Investments to Address a Second Pandemic, the Mental Health Crisis, in NYC

Good Afternoon Chair Linda Lee, Chair Lynn Schulman and Members of both the Committee on Health, and Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addictions. My name is Kimberly Blair, and I am here to testify as the Manager of Public Policy and Advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of NYC (NAMI-NYC), one of the largest affiliates of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a grassroots mental health advocacy organization. I also come to you as a peer with lived experience and as a supportive family member.

For 40 years, NAMI-NYC has provided free, groundbreaking advocacy, education, and support services to individuals impacted by mental illness and is the only organization in NYC to extend these services to their family members, caregivers, and friends, completely free of charge. Our organization does this so that these individuals can serve as a strong support system for their loved ones with mental health conditions.

Today, I am here to highlight six priority areas the City can invest in to support the mental health community and address the second pandemic – the mental health crisis – currently affecting all New Yorkers, not just those with formal diagnoses.

  1. First, we would like to see funds available for community-based organizations (CBOs), such as ours, who invest in family support systems to build protective factors within an individual’s environment to influence long-term, positive mental health outcomes.
  2. Additionally, we would like to see grants to the CBOs who operate crisis respite centers to expand upon their current services and open new, 24/7 centers in each borough to respond to increased needs at this moment and prepare for the launch of 988, which will need these centers as options for follow-up care.
  3. Third, we would like to see a financial commitment towards the recruitment and retention of BIPOC mental health professionals, especially those studying through our CUNY system, to provide culturally competent and linguistically appropriate care to our diverse community members, including those living in “mental health care deserts.”
  4. Next, we would like to see funding for the universal screening of all public school students, grades pre-K through 12, to gauge the status of their mental health needs and post-COVID trauma. The City should then use the data obtained by these to fund and hire more mental health professionals in each school, as needed, to support our next generation.
  5. Fifth, we need to revisit the $112 million designated in the last Mayor’s FY22 Recovery Budget for non-police response to mental health crisis calls. As consistently proposed by CCIT-NYC, we need this and future crisis funding to go towards a proven model that works by centering peer crisis workers and independent Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) as first responders to mental health crisis calls. The City should consider funding to adjust the B-HEARD program to move towards this peer-centered model.
  6. Finally, we would like to see the funding proposed under Mayor Adam’s and Governor Hochul’s “Subway Safety Plan” to go towards peer outreach workers and increased supportive housing–not towards police or co-response teams–so that workers can conduct psychoeducation and build the connections necessary to motivate and engage individuals on the subway and city streets in their own recovery and support services. Governor Hochul’s preliminary budget proposes $11 billion to support the operation of shelter and supportive housing units across New York State. City Council needs to be assessing this allocation of funds and whether it is enough based on the repercussions of this plan which will leave many individuals experiencing mental health crises, dual diagnoses and other disabilities evicted from what may be their only safe haven while navigating their recovery. In the case that this Council concludes that the proposed funding is not enough for our city’s needs, City Council needs to allocate more funding in its budget to accommodate for increased supportive housing.

We hope you consider our testimony.

Thank you for your time,
Kimberly Blair, MPH (she/her/hers)
Manager of Public Policy & Advocacy
National Alliance on Mental Illness of NYC (NAMI-NYC)

Written testimony on behalf of NAMI-NYC for the Committees on Health and on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction to consider in response to March 9, 2022 New York City Council’s Budget and Oversight Hearings.