NYAPRS Legislative Day Takes Albany, Advances Housing and Workforce Funding and Criminal Justice Reforms

NYAPRS Legislative Day Takes Albany!

Over 400 NYAPRS self and system advocates braved the bitter cold and came to Albany yesterday to advocate on behalf of tens of thousands of people with major mental health conditions from across New York. Our orange and green hats and spirited advocacy were evident throughout the Capital and Legislative Office Building and received prominent media coverage (see attached and below).

We raised our voices during the educational sessions in the Egg’s Hart Auditorium and heard stirring remarks from advocacy leaders and prominent legislative and state agency officials. Almost 100 brave advocates marched around the Capital and hundreds more brought forward the positions contained in the attached Legislative Day book to state legislators and staff throughout the day.

We left gratified that the Cost of Living Adjustment was widely understood and supported by legislators and Administration officials alike and that there was support from all to find the $140 million necessary to support workers and agencies funded by the Offices of Mental Health, People with Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Children and Family Services and Aging and the Department of Health.

We found common interest in the raising of housing rates and strong support for passage of the HALT bill that will ban the use of solitary confinement with people with disabilities and others. We encouraged and saw the promise of new legislation setting up a dedicated funding stream to advance Crisis Intervention Teams across New York. We celebrated the recent enactment of legislation that will treat therapies aimed at dissuading people from their gender identify choices as professional and penalized misconduct. And we committed to working with our friends in the disability community to oppose proposed changes that would seriously threaten the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program.

Great thanks to all our bold and spirited advocates, to our dedicated board members and bus captains and to our terrific staff team for helping to advance policies that will, in particular, provide critically needed funding to strengthen our community service systems and workforce and to advance landmark criminal justice reforms that will enhance if not save the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers.


Before the Day

At the Event

Advocates Rally for Mental Health Care Reform

Via video and article at https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/capital-region/news/2019/02/26/mental-health-rally#)

By Matt Hunter Spectrum Albany/Capital Region  February 26, 2019

Doug Van Zandt says his son, Benjamin, never displayed signs of mental illness until he was 17 years old and was arrested for starting a fire inside a home in Delmar.

"Our son was a happy 17-year-old kid, he was doing fantastic at school," Van Zandt said. "He began hearing voices, having auditory hallucinations. He was so scared and he didn't know what to do about that and it came on rather quickly."

About four years into his prison sentence, Van Zandt was sent to solitary confinement after allegedly fighting with another inmate. Shortly after, he took his own life.

"When we got the phone call he was dead, it was just so absolutely devastating,” Van Zandt said. “I hope that never happens to another parent again."

More than four years after the death of his son, Van Zandt is among the hundreds of advocates fighting for mental health and criminal justice reform at the state capitol this week.

Among their goals are passage of the HALT Bill to keep individuals with mental illness out of solitary confinement.

"Being in solitary confinement for someone with a severe mental illness is wrong, period," Van Zandt said.

According to the Correctional Association of New York, on any given day, an estimated 900 inmates with a history of mental illness are in solitary confinement in New York State.

"Solitary confinement has become the dumping ground for people with mental illness, and it is the worst thing for them, it's torture," said Jack Beck, a consultant with Correctional Association of New York.

Along with providing better pay for mental health workers and securing more affordable housing, the issue is one of several mental health advocates are fighting for.

“The mental health committee has been neglected year after year after year,” said Aileen Gunther, who chairs the Assembly’s mental health committee. “I hope someone on the second floor is listening, you have neglected all of us.”

"We are like the silent majority in the sense that so many people have a mental illness but don't want to talk about it," said Harvey Rosenthal, the executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

While it's too late to save Van Zandt's son, the Albany man still believes the legislation can't come soon enough.

"I believe it would've saved our son's life and Ben would still be around," Van Zandt said.