March 1st, 2016

Connecticut braces for budget cuts

With a projected $500 million shortfall in the 2016-2017 Connecticut state budget and the General Assembly 2016 session underway, mental health advocates are rallying to preserve programs and services.

NAMI Connecticut has outlined five 2016 legislative priorities, among them, to preserve and improve existing community supports. Daniela Giordano, MSW, NAMI Connecticut public policy director, said this goal is important particularly in light of the state’s current economic climate.

“We know for a fact there will be cuts, it’s just where exactly, and how much and what exactly it will mean for people in the community,” Giordano said.

“One of the essential pieces for us as advocates is to have a pretty clear message for everybody and collaborate with other mental health organizations or people connected to the grassroots, to align our messages,” she said.

Giordano said she was encouraged by the General Assembly’s opening session in February. “We have heard clear bipartisan support,” she said. “People did spell out that this is an area they were concerned about – whether Senate or House members or Democrats or Republicans.”

“That’s a very good thing, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that we’re dealing with a very big budget deficit,” she said, stressing the need for collaboration and rallying advocates on the ground to show up and speak out.

Among NAMI Connecticut’s other legislative priorities for 2016 is the continued expansion of supportive housing.

Connecticut has been a leader in the movement, with more than 5,600 units of supportive housing, according to Reaching Home, a campaign of the Partnership for Strong Communities, which aims to end chronic homelessness.

Supportive housing is permanent, independent and affordable housing combined with on-site visiting case management and support and employment services, for people with disabilities, mental health conditions, substance use disorders and other issues.

The Reaching Home campaign is the leadership structure for planning and oversight of Opening Doors – CT, a framework to prevent and end homelessness in Connecticut that is aligned with the federal Opening Doors plan.

“They have been doing a phenomenal job in bringing attention to housing not only as a basic right, but also a basic component of anybody wanting to really have a quality of life and stability in their lives,” Giordano said.

“Supportive housing is really the main model that has been proven to really work for individuals who may be dealing with oftentimes pretty intense mental health challenges and everything that comes along with it,” she said.

NAMI Connecticut’s other 2016 legislative priorities are to strengthen services for children and youth; promote education, employment, and wellness; and protect civil rights and advance self-determination, including increasing peer supports and training for law enforcement.

Peer-run agencies in the state offer recovery/peer support training.

“We have a relative large number of people who have been certified in providing peer support,” Giordano said. “I think the notion of a peer being an instrumental part of one’s health and wellness path and being part of recovery is definitely gaining traction.”

Law enforcement training (such as the Crisis Intervention Team model) has also gained traction, and aims to help first responders better understand someone in a mental health crisis, promote safe tactics, encourage the formation of community partnerships and reduce injuries to citizens and police and the number of repeat crisis calls for police services.

NAMI Connecticut has a criminal justice project director who has helped provide such training. Training is voluntary, Giordano said, and “There’s always a waiting list. It’s been very popular and well-received.”

By Pamela Berard

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