$30 Million Program to Help Low-Income New Yorkers Get Mental Health Care


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Chirlane McCray, the wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, hosted a news conference in May to raise awareness for mental health.

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Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

New York is set to begin a $30 million program aimed at providing mental health services to low-income residents with little or no access to care.

The program, Connections to Care, will tap existing community organizations that reach low-income residents but are not providing mental health services. Chirlane McCray, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, will announce on Thursday that the fund, along with two city agencies, has secured financing for the program: a five-year, $10 million federal grant that the fund will match with $20 million.

The program, which will also double as a study, will train workers, like preschool teachers and job placement specialists, to identify and to help heal depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health problems. “Peer counseling is powerful,” Ms. McCray said in an interview on Wednesday. “We all have the potential to be healers.”

For Ms. McCray, the wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the issue is personal.

Her daughter, Chiara de Blasio, has publicly addressed her battle with substance abuse and mental health issues, embracing a role as an ambassador for young people grappling with similar problems. When Ms. McCray announced in January that mental health would be a priority of the administration, she revealed for the first time that she had grown up with parents who had suffered from untreated depression.

In an interview, Ms. McCray said that one in four New Yorkers has a diagnosable mental health disorder, a talking point that she has returned to often.

Since she declared mental health as a top issue, the administration has added more than $100 million for mental health initiatives in the city budget. Ms. McCray also embarked on a listening tour, traveling from borough to borough to gather residents’ thoughts on how to tackle the problem.

She said low-income residents are not getting help, hindering them in getting a job or even caring for their children. “How are we going to help people who can’t get out of bed each morning?” she asked. “This is something that affects everyone.”

She said her listening tour confirmed a basic tenet that she already knew and that is the crux of Connections to Care: “People really, really want services in their neighborhoods.”

That philosophy caught the attention of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said Wendy Spencer, chief executive of the federal agency best known for overseeing AmeriCorps. The agency selected the mayor’s fund as one of eight winners out of 50 applicants for a grant from its Social Innovation Fund. The city’s $30 million effort represents the largest such partnership since Mr. de Blasio took office and one of the largest in the history of the mayor’s fund, city officials said. “It’s a tough issue, and not everyone wants to do a deep dive on tough issues,” Ms. Spencer said.

Ms. McCray said people want to go to those with whom they feel comfortable, who speak their language and who understand their religion or culture. They also do not want to travel a long distance to get help.

Mentally ill people are most likely already encountering people who are potentially able to help them, said Gabrielle Fialkoff, senior adviser to the mayor. She explained that a counselor trained to identify mental health issues could be a preschool teacher seeing signs in a parent, or a worker at a job placement center recognizing that a job applicant needs help.

In September, the mayor’s fund and its two partner agencies — the Center for Economic Opportunity and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — will open a request for proposals. Nonprofits are expected to team up with mental health providers in their applications to provide the services that will train their employees on the mental health techniques, Ms. Fialkoff said.

Ms. Fialkoff said she estimated that the city would work with a dozen or so nonprofits and would start providing the services in the spring.

The corporation will first give the city $6 million over three years, and then the city will be eligible for $4 million in renewals over two years. Ms. Spencer said her agency would monitor the city’s progress. “We will be looking at how many people had access,” she said. “That will be the measure, quite frankly.”



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