Advocates rally to “Put People First” calling for a fair budget in Harrisburg

By:  Kathie Mitchell

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.

“I thought it was very exciting,” Ayers said. “It was great to have my voice heard.”

 

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