The following are two letters that were read at the June 18, 2015 hearing on the proposed Montgomery County Human Services Block Grant Plan for FY 2015-16:
The Need of Mental Health Supports by Jomel Silverio
When those with lived experience and have mental illness are provided with health supports, they become assets to the community and change occurs for the better. People may have had to live with trauma, and the assistance that the community provides for people just like us, aids those afflicted with mental illness to reengage, stronger than their past.
When discussing the necessity of mental health, it is important to assess all those which encompass the umbrella of those who have mental illness.
Youth, just like adults, may have had traumatic experience growing up, and through generations of distorted thinking have turned to criminogenic behavior.
No matter where you are, mental health services are crucial in offering those with a need, a chance to recover.
Each of us, to a degree, is connected to someone, or is somebody who is a living example of how the mental health field has picked us up, taking the pressure off our shoulders, and has engaged us into fulfilling our goals, and helping others realize that there is always a way to recovery.
The need and demand for mental health devotees grows, just as a tree with limbs outstretched to reach the sun.
If the mental health field is not supported, the result is akin to a mountain of garbage in the center of our town’s Main Street where everyone drives away from briskly, or like a house which has trash inside that has never been taken out, so action must be an initiative.
Of course there are trash trucks that run through town, but the example posed represents how the mental health dilemma is similar to a town without recycling plastics, and without water purification plants, and lack of damns to help regulate for the need of the community as a whole.
This example illustrates how mental health is an obvious necessity that continues to grow as a demand, both in people with lived experience or experiencing life’s hardships, and people that can help like psychiatrists, certified peer specialists, doctors, case workers and such to name a few.
Letter to Montgomery County Commissioners by Kathie Mitchell
Dear Montgomery County Commissioners:
The Human Services Block Grant Plan for the FY 2015-16 was not published prior to the hearing so it’s very difficult to make comments or ask questions about it. Persons with lived experience, family members, agencies and advocates for mental health expect to be part of the ongoing process throughout the year to determine short and long range goals for enhancing the mental health system in Montgomery County. I hope that the input from our stakeholder group, the Montgomery County CSP Committee, as well as the Consumer Satisfaction Team was included in this plan.
Last week, advocates from Montgomery County, Philadelphia and other counties in the region, held a rally in the Capitol in Harrisburg to support the governor’s plan to restore the 10 percent cuts that were made to community mental health in 2012, to advocate for mental health parity, and to educate our legislators and our communities about the need for forensic reform.
We advocated to bring to this county and surrounding counties 10 percent more community mental health dollars and we were not alone. House Reps. Tom Murt, Gene DiGirolamo, and Margo Davidson, as well as Philadelphia Senator Vincent Hughes spoke passionately in support of the need to fund our regional systems to adequately meet the needs of people who struggle with disabilities and who want a step up not a hand out.
We will continue to advocate for the restoration of mental health funds and for an increase in revenue for the state budget. But we need to know that our county commissioners are listening, too.
Does the current plan include additional revenues for behavioral health services? How are we funding the blended services between mental health and the criminal justice system? Do the specialty courts have designated funding or does each department absorb the cost of having staff assigned to the Behavioral Health Court, the Drug Court and the Veterans Court? Once individuals leave the county jail, what human services funding is available to safely provide housing, treatment, employment and support services for them? Have we designated more funding for case management and prevention, intervention and diversion services? How are we helping individuals who sit in jail because they don’t realize their problems are related to their mental health?
Hopefully, the Human Services Block Grant Plan addresses these questions. There are a lot of competent, hardworking individuals in our human services system who do the best they can to help those in need. But without the tools to do the work, it won’t get done.
Montgomery County has done a great job in creating a person centered, recovery oriented system with the development of certified peer specialists, housing initiatives, recovery coaching, employment services and mobile crisis to name a few. We need to continue to enhance these services while taking a huge step up to tackle decriminalization of mental health. It’s one of the most challenging issues we face and one that needs to be addressed with all our community partners involved. Most of the individuals who are struggling in jail are desperately seeking help. We need to let them know we’re listening.
Advocates from southeast Pennsylvania rallied alongside legislators and other advocates from across the state at the Capitol in Harrisburg on June 10, calling for a restoration of the 10 percent cuts to community mental health that were taken away three years ago.
Led by a team of advocates from the Mental Health Association of Southeastern PA (MHASP), members of CSP and Community Advocates were armed with a three-prong message: restore mental health funding in the state budget, implement mental health parity in our state, and step up the process of reforming forensic involvement with people with mental health conditions.
Showing their support for restoring funds and the need for quality mental health services were House Representatives Tom Murt, Montgomery County, Gene DiGirolamo, Bucks County, Margo Davidson, Delaware County, and Senator Vincent Hughes from Philadelphia, as well as Sue Walther, Director of the Mental Health Association in PA (MHAPA).
On his Facebook page Rep. Murt wrote:
“I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at a rally today to draw attention to the needs of people who depend on our Department of Human Services. As we debate what to include in our budget, we must commit ourselves to reducing the waiting list for services and to giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Speaking for herself was Regional CSP Technical Assistant Penny Johnson. She spoke passionately about finding her own voice after struggling with homelessness and mental health issues, and how, with the help of community resources, she also found employment and housing. Johnson, a Certified Peer Specialist, stressed the importance of the CSP network that unites stakeholders in the mental health system to advocate together at the local, regional and state level.
Forensic Advocate and Certified Peer Specialist J.B. Brooks voiced his concerns about the struggles of individuals who have mental health and criminal justice issues. Brooks, who has lived experience in both areas, facilitates a justice and recovery re-entry class at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF) called “It’s T.I.M.E.” The class stands for Think, Identify, Make changes and Enter a new life. Individuals learn about mental health, how to navigate the criminal justice system, how to identify and change distorted thinking, and are assisted in creating a re-entry plan to use upon discharge.
After the rally, advocates met in small groups and held pre-arranged meetings with legislators and/or legislative staff. Literature was handed out as well as information about specific services and programs offered in their districts.
But the advocacy work isn’t over. Now the negotiations start between legislators, who have some budget counterproposals, and the Governor. See “Here’s what you can do to help.”
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Today – Call, visit, email and/or write your local House Representative and State Senator and tell them what you think about mental health services and if they have benefited you, a friend, family member, neighbor or co-worker. Each time you contact a legislator about an issue through any of these methods, it is recorded. The more calls on an issue, the more likely it makes the legislator’s radar.
- Tell others about the state budget proposal and educate them about the need for more funding for community mental health. Be specific about which services and programs you think are worthy of attention and funding.
- Urge others to contact their legislators about mental health and human services issues.
- Call or mail a thank you to Governor Wolf for proposing in the state budget to restore the cuts to mental health made in 2012.
- Call Community Advocates at 610-270-0375 if you have any questions about advocacy or to find out the names of your legislators.
- If you have internet access, google “who is my PA legislator” to find your representative.