RX FOR NYC HOMELESS: 10,000 APARTMENTS FOR MENTALLY ILL

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The millions in state and city dollars that fueled a recent boom of housing for the mentally ill homeless has stopped flowing, and now advocates are pushing George Pataki to put his money where his conscience is supposed to be.

Under the New York/New York agreement, signed in 1989, Albany and the city used some of the money saved by closing state hospitals to construct or renovate 3,000 new units of housing for the homeless-mentally ill. The program, which is widely lauded as a national model, also paid for supportive counseling, treatment and casework services for the homeless.

Yet since the agreement lapsed last summer, the city and state have not replaced the lost funding–despite the fact that the number of mentally ill on the streets is expected to increase as more state hospitals reduce beds over the next several years. Experts with nonprofits estimate that only about 300 of the estimated 12,000 mentally ill homeless who needed permanent shelter last year were placed in long-term residences.

Advocates for the homeless are calling for a new commitment to create 10,000 new supportive units over the next five years. “We need to make a serious new agreement,” says Maureen Friar of the Supportive Housing Network of New York, whose 108 member groups have developed and managed 12,000 units of supportive housing. “This has been one of the most successful programs in the country.”

Friar, along with groups like the Coalition for the Homeless and the Mental Health Association, have formed the Campaign for New York/New York II, to force the governor and mayor to agree to devote the half billion dollars in capital funding and the $50 million a year in program money needed to create and maintain the 10,000 apartments. Mayor Giuliani reportedly supports adopting some kind of agreement, but Pataki, who is touting a huge budget surplus, hasn’t yet seen the light. Pataki’s proposed budget, due to be unveiled later this month, is expected to proffer funding for less than 1,000 new apartments over the next five years. A call to the governor’s office was not returned. The campaign will stage a protest march from the Bellvue Men’s Shelter to Pataki’s Third Avenue office at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. For more information, call 212-533-0540, ext. 306.