NY mental health housing providers rally for funding, say fast food workers make more

Feb 15, 2019

Advocates for increased funding of mental health housing programs rallied in Syracuse and across New York State Thursday. They said there has not been a substantial increase in funding for more than 10 years.

Unity House of Cayuga County provides housing and other services to people with mental illnesses. Liz Smith, the executive director, said most of the money in their supported housing program covers the cost of people’s rents. As the market rate for rent goes up, the agency is left with less money.

“When you’re stretching the dollar, at some point, the dollar snaps and we’re at that point," Smith said. "There are providers out there that may have to actually give up their programs because they can't afford it.”

Smith said they need more money to recruit and retain qualified workers. She said people can make more working at McDonald's than her agency. The minimum wage for fast food workers in New York State outside of New York City is $1.65 an hour higher than the minimum wage for other workers. 

“We’re losing people because we’re not able to meet that dollar amount, that hourly rate," Smith said. "The other thing is this is hard work. Finding people who have the passion, the strength to be able to do this work is also a challenge.”

Smith was joined by other mental health housing providers, outside the state office building in downtown Syracuse, including Tracey Lord-Mortas, the director of residential programs at Central New York Services. 

“Costs, everything goes up, and our funding either stays static or goes up very little and we’re not able to keep up with inflation, minimum wage increases," Lord-Mortas said. "We’re not able to attract staff. We’re not able to provide the services that we want to and folks deserve.”

John Warren, the executive director of Central New York Services, said the situation is so dire, they are at risk of imploding.

The group of providers and advocates were also previously in Albany, lobbying legislators. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing $10 million in additional funding for housing programs for the mentally ill. But advocates said they want more than $30 million a year for the next five years.