Senator Hassell-Thompson Urges Collaboration To Pass Mental Health Housing Waiting List Law

Ruth Hassell-Thompson

August 23, 2006

State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx/Westchester) today criticized the Governor’s veto of a waiting list for adults with mental illnesses seeking community housing and supportive services. The waiting list legislation, supported by a broad coalition of mental health providers, advocates, and concerned citizens, called for the creation of a monthly list to identify the number of people with serious mental illnesses waiting for supportive housing.

"This measure makes clear the size and scope of the problem," said Senator Hassell-Thompson. "We know this is a population that all too often resides in shelters, group homes, or worse still the street. Too many people capable of living independently are being shuffled about because there is no comprehensive way of tracking available housing."

Advocates for the mentally ill say safe, affordable housing with support services is a prerequisite to recovery and that a centralized waiting list is essential to the effort to obtain such housing. Currently, state officials have limited means of tracking what works and assessing where to target resources.

"A statewide list would document the wait time for existing housing, the kinds of housing available, and the needs of persons waiting for housing," Senator Hassell-Thompson explained. "This is a valuable planning tool that would surely improve living arrangements for some of New York’s most vulnerable residents."

Studies show the State could redirect funds currently going to temporary shelters, hospitals and jails and invest in mental health housing, at little or no additional cost to the public. Other state agencies, including the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, conduct annual assessments of their housing and maintain a waiting list. There has not been a needs assessment of mental health community housing in more than a decade.

In his veto, the Governor noted that the bill, as currently written, would list persons referred to or applying for supportive housing, including those who might not meet eligibility requirements, a concern raised by the state Office of Mental Health (OMH). The Governor encouraged the bill’s sponsors and supporters to work with OMH to settle their differences.

"Everyone involved must work together to get this critical piece of legislation passed by year’s end," Senator Hassell-Thompson concluded. "Let’s do the right and compassionate thing for people with mental illness. This measure offers them a better chance for an active life in their communities."