Over 100 advocates from Philadelphia and its suburbs rallied in Harrisburg this month to stop legislators from cutting $9 million from community mental health funds.
In a joint effort, Mental Health Partnerships and the Southeast Regional Community Support Program (CSP) Committee, organized various teams of advocates and planned meetings with legislators before and after the Human Service Rally for a Fair Budget.
About 700 individuals from across the state crammed into the Rotunda at noon, filling the marble steps and spilling over into the upper levels of the grand hall. Boisterous chants of “Put People First” and “Recovery is Real” filled the room as speakers from all human services fields pointed out the need for adequate funding and to keep “the humanity in human services.”
Advocates from the Southeast were armed with lobbying tips and a three-prong agenda:
- Support Behavioral Health Parity
- Support a Budget that Values Mental Health; and
- Support the Responsible Closure of Norristown State Hospital’s Civil Unit.
Jason Matlack, Certified Peer Specialist from Central in Norristown, spoke at the rally as a person in recovery and a member of CSP.
“Recovery is real,” Matlack told the crowd. “However it is not free and it is not easy. It’s crucial we have the services we need so people can recover.”
Matlack added that many people with mental health issues, including himself, have experienced poverty and homelessness, adding “we thought our lives were over and not worth living.”
But Matlack overcame those obstacles and reminded people that “You cannot put a price on human life because recovery is real.”
For some CSP members, it was their first trip to the Capitol and the first time meeting with legislators. Although it was a uphill battle for those members meeting with fiscal conservatives, most of the activists reported an overall positive experience.
Eric Ayers, a member of the Delaware County CSP, had embarked on this first-time experience with video camera in hand. Ayers created a 9-minute video of the bus trip and rally which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/fDiYA48dhLY.
By: Kathie Mitchell
The Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution in May to officially join the national Stepping Up Initiative which focuses on reducing the number of individuals with mental illnesses in county jails across the country.
By its proclamation, Montgomery County joins more than 350 other counties representing 35% of the United States’ population, to commit actions toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in their local jails.
In May 2015, The Stepping Up Initiative was launched. It is a partnership between the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), the National Association of Counties, and The American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
In January 2015, the Montgomery County Forensic Mental Health Coalition was formed in response to concerns from local advocates, families, mental health providers, corrections and community corrections about the need to tackle the issue which has been labeled “the criminalization of the mentally ill.”
The county’s Forensic MH Coalition has adopted four goals:
- Reduce the number of people with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) who are booked into jail;
- Reduce the length of time people with SMI stay in jail;
- Increase the number of people with SMI getting connected to community-based services and supports, and
- Reduce the number of people with SMI returning to jail.
The Coalition has a Steering Committee which meets monthly. There are three working committees – Data, Diversion and Reentry -that also meet on a regular basis.
By joining the national initiative, the county becomes the 14th county in the state to join the initiative. The county will have access to technical assistance that is offered through webinars and the partnerships’ resources.
In addition, Pennsylvania launched a statewide Stepping Up Initiative on April 4, making it just the third state in the country to take on the issue, following Ohio and California, the CSG Justice Center reported.
At the county and state level in PA, local leaders and community stakeholders will follow a roadmap that addresses six key questions that the community must answer in order to develop a comprehensive strategy to impact the problem. The roadmap addresses key elements of a successful plan, including the need for screening and assessments for mental illness upon admission to jail; establishing a baseline for data for counties to follow; tracking progress on key outcomes, such as recidivism rates, and ensuring connections to treatment, according to the CSG Justice Center.
To: Dear Staff and Peers
I want to first state I have learned a great deal about myself in these 8 weeks I have been attending the It’s T.I.M.E. class. I have been inspired from this program and the breathing exercise really helps me a lot, especially during times of frustration. When I am upset about something or angry at something, I use what I have learned in the It’s T.I.M.E. to cope with my feelings, such as the breathing and counting exercise that I have to continue to practice though out my life. The stress that I was having has lessened by the day, and I am more relaxed as the days of practice and just doing the exercise integrate into a part of my everyday routine.
Understanding the criminal systems and the different Courts of the Common Pleas, such as Drug Court, Treatment Court, and the Criminal Court, has helped me out a lot. I have learned to be patient with receiving the help of getting my medication. It was a process and I am receiving the proper medication finally. I have been able to identify the warning signs, triggers, and the behaviors of my old self when it comes to the ADDICTION side of life.
I must stay focused and committed to staying clean and sober and to never fall back into the same old patterns that took me down the past, coming back to prison is a fear that I have gotten since I have been incarcerated this time around, and it’s very sad for me to be here at this stage of my life. Giving up my freedom, family and real friends, has been a playing a part in my thinking. I not only hurt myself but I hurt those that care for me and love me the most.
I have learned a lot about others, and tools that I have already put into place with practice. I would like to thank Kathie, Jomel, and Jeff for everything that you have given me. Thanks for the hope and shining light that has been tuned back on that dulled by the life that I was living, and I want to say thank you all for bringing me out of the state of mind that I was in for some time now, and now I am the light in the darkest situation….. May God Continue to bless you all and continue to help people save themselves from confused lifestyles.
Ron participated in every class in session 18 of the It’s T.I.M.E. class we, the Community Advocates, teach at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. The purpose of the class is to help men think about the reasons they came to jail, identify possible solutions, make changes and to start a new life.
Ron was always composed and participated by reading and sharing his thoughts on issues that he could relate to. Ron had begun to participate in our current session, (session 19), of the It’s T.I.M.E. class, and one class we expected to see Ron, but didn’t see him and wondered why he hadn’t showed up.
Turns out that Ron had a court appearance the previous day and was discharged into the community, and then, just last week, we had a surprise visit…Ron dropped by the HopeWorx office to get some resources squared away.
It was such an awesome feeling, seeing one of our students make it out of Montgomery County Correctional Facility, and making their first stop in the community at the HopeWorx office after getting released.
Part of our goal is to stay connected with individuals once they leave jail to give support and see if their plans are working out. If they need treatment and need to be connected to a particular resource, we are there to help. And that is exactly how the advocates helped and will continue to help.