Cold shoulder for the mentally ill

The Brooklyn Paper
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The East Flatbush community is embroiled in a struggle to keep a residence for people with mental illness out of their neighborhood.

Residents of the block and surrounding area object to a proposal by the Center for Behavioral Health Services (CBHS) to open 57 units of supportive housing for mentally ill adults at 331-333 Lenox Road, contending that the neighborhood is already saturated with such facilities and that the placement of yet another would unduly burden the area.

Indeed, at an emergency meeting held back in July, Community Board 17 members — who had heard from worried residents about their concerns regarding the project — voted unanimously to oppose the siting.

“The basis for the disapproval is that the establishment of a facility of this kind would result in a concentration of community residential facilities for the mentally disabled within the catchment area of Community Board 17,” wrote CB 17 Chairperson Lloyd Mills, in an August 4th letter to David Wieder, an attorney for CBHS.

There are a total of 44 such facilities within the CB 17 area, Mills said, including one residential rehabilitation facility for people with “chemical dependence,” six residential mental health facilities, nine non-residential mental health facilities, 10 group homes for the developmentally disabled, and five non-residential facilities for the developmentally disabled.

“We have had substantial problems stemming from mental health facilities located within CB 17,” Mills added, noting that several of the facilities “have proven to be irresponsible in the protection of neighboring residents in that proper measures are not taken to prevent the residents from vandalizing homes, residents are loud and boisterous, and residents have been known to congregate on street corners throughout the community committing acts of lewdness and other illegal acts relating to sexual activities, drugs and alcohol.”

However, there may be little that the board can do. According to a August 21st letter to Mills from Michael Hogan, commissioner of the state’s Office of Mental Health (OMH), because it is not “a treatment facility… a hearing is not available under the law.”

All that is required, Hogan wrote, is “Notice to the municipali­ty.” In addition, Hogan said, OMH “policy requires both the notification of additional elected officials as well as a period of 75 days following notice during which time it is expected that a dialogue will develop between all interested parties to resolve any misunderstandings or misconcept­ions.”

Nonetheless, State Senator Eric Adams is negotiating behind-the-scenes, said Kelvin Alexander, his deputy chief of staff, during CB 17’s September meeting. That day, Adams had met with Governor David Paterson to discuss the matter, Alexander said, remarking, “In this part of Brooklyn, every time they want them, they seem to dump them in our communities.”

Residents continue to object. “The community is vehemently opposed to this,” stressed Lenox Road resident Judy Spence during the meeting, stressing that residents were “doing our part” to try to keep the facility – which would replace two one-family homes — from opening.

“We have contacted elected officials. We have circulated petitions. We have hired a lawyer,” noted Spence, who pointed out that there was a men’s shelter already established just a block and a half away from the site. “I hope it’s not a done deal. We’re still out there fighting this.”

“We’re saturated over here,” remarked Mechelle Brunson, a member of CB 17, in a subsequent interview. “It’s not as if it’s a not-in-my-backyard thing. Give us a break. We can barely deal with what we have here now. We have facilities popping up all over the place that we don’t even know about till we stumble on them.

“And, it really would disrupt the harmony of the block they want to build it on,” Brunson added. “It’s an old-fashioned block. Residents still leave their doors open. There are dangers to having a facility like this in the neighborhood. It really takes away from what we have.

“What we need is what they have been promising us all along,” Brunson concluded. “We need a community center and we need affordable housing for seniors.”

According to a mandated notification letter sent by Wieder to CB 17 at the end of June, the facility would be open to “men and women 18 years and older with a primary diagnosis of mental illness who have sufficiently developed skills to care for themselves.”

It would be staffed around the clock, and would offer “case management services, vocational training, and recreational activities” to residents who “will have access to medical and psychiatric services through community based providers.”

In the letter, Wieder contended that the opening of the facility would benefit the community, “By developing an attractive building that is integrated into the surrounding neighborho­od,” as well as by “increas(ing) employment opportunities and provid(ing) economic benefits for members of the community.”

Contacted for comment, Jill Daniels, a spokesperson for OMH, had this to say. “The project is part of the New York/New York III agreement, a joint city/state pact announced in 2005 to finance and develop 9,000 new units of permanent, affordable housing.” The Center for Behavioral Health Services, Daniels added, “is working to address concerns that neighbors may have.”

The September CB 17 meeting was held at the First United Church of Christ, 590 Utica Avenue.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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