Not Exactly a Mahogany-paneled Corporate Boardroom

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

Montgomery County Budget ForumA hundred days after passage of the state budget, it is too soon to fully assess the impact of cuts to human services, Montgomery County's administrator for behavioral health and developmental disabilities told a group of 50 consumers and social service providers at a budget forum last week.

Still, Administrator Eric Goldstein told the forum at the Norristown Recovery and Education Center that he has concerns about the state's move toward block grants for human services funding. Unlike Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties, Montgomery County did not apply to be part of this year’s new pilot block grant for the Human Services Development Fund.

Eric Goldstein was joined by speaker after speaker who testified to the importance of the modest dollars invested in prevention and community supports for people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

One speaker, Troy, a solidly built man with a confident manner and a winning smile, said people call him a “success story,” but he remembered the days when he struggled with drug addiction. He described how he would walk into the Norristown Center and feel a lift from the friendly and familiar faces of the staff, who would ask him how he was doing.

“I’m looking for a job,” he would tell them.

“Really?” they would reply.

“No,” he would admit. “Not really.”

Through the Center, which is run by the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Troy built up his self-esteem and was able to find work counseling others.

Montgomery County Budget ForumIn the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost a lot of money to maintain a drop-in center in Norristown. Eric Goldstein, gesturing to the neatly-painted cinder block walls and freshly waxed linoleum floor, pointed out that it wasn’t exactly a mahogany-paneled corporate boardroom. But the cost of not having local community resources like this one would be enormous.

Another speaker began by saying she had not wanted to speak, but realized she had to. She was an elementary school teacher, she began, from a family of ministers, educators, and lawyers. In her late thirties, she went through a difficult period after the death of her mother and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was not able to keep her job. Her family did not believe the diagnosis, she told us, and shut their doors to her.

“Strangers had to take me in,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Strangers.”

She is now living in the Halfway There shelter as she puts her life back together.

Eric Goldstein closed the evening by reminding the crowd that we are in this together. The line, he said, between people with mental illness and the rest of us is very thin.

Representative Matt Bradford also spoke, reminding us that the state is facing hard economic times but does have choices in how to respond to the challenging fiscal reality. He cited the Legislature’s decision to give up to $1.6 billion in tax credits to Shell Oil at the same time the state is cutting funding for human services.

Get more information on how you can advocate with Better Choices for Pennsylvania for supports for people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.

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