“Fight fight fight! Housing is a human right!” “No more jive—eight point five!”
On Mental Health Lobby Day in Albany, the marble halls of the State Capitol rang with the chants of activists. Several members of our TOP Clubhouse were among them.
TOP is a warm and caring space where “community is therapy” for people living with serious mental illness. Members usually go to the clubhouse every day to build community and learn skills. But on March 13, some of them got up before dawn to catch the bus to Albany instead. Their demands included an 8.5% Cost of Living Adjustment for mental health workers and an increase in housing for homeless people.
“We all had banners and a chance to rally through the hallways. Everyone wanted their voices to be heard,” said member Sam Hill. “I felt like we accomplished something.”
The activists also met with their state lawmakers to share their perspective. Charles De San Pedro said he felt staffers at the clubhouse deserved a pay raise so they wouldn’t have to struggle to get by.
“I know mental health workers making more money would help them do more for their families. It makes me want to be part of the change,” he said.
He also asked his Assembly Member, Linda Rosenthal, to pass Daniel’s Law, which would specify that trained mental health professionals should respond to mental health emergencies instead of police. He told her he himself had been physically hurt by police in that situation.
“I guess I had a mental breakdown but someone called the cops on me,” he said. “It’s very close to my heart.”
Charles called the lobby day impactful for him: “I felt I grew from that day. I love being part of a clubhouse because it makes me more productive. I want to help people who are going through this.”
TOP isn’t alone in making the trip to Albany recently to lobby on mental health issues. Late last year, #DegreesNYC Youth Council Co-Coordinators Victoria Lu and Dale Mcenany testified before the State Assembly at a public hearing on mental health needs at colleges and universities. You can read a transcript of their testimony or watch it on video.
“It’s incredibly important for lawmakers to hear from the constituents who are the most affected by laws they pass,” said Goddard Riverside President Roderick L. Jones. “Our Advocacy team supports our members every day to connect with their elected officials and we appreciate those who go all the way to Albany to advocate for themselves and others.”
(Photo: TOP members and staff meet with Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal)