State Funding to Establish Eight Teams of Behavioral Health Professionals to Address the Immediate Needs of Unhoused New Yorkers
Teams Modeled After Those Used Successfully in New York City Will Be Deployed in Areas of New York State with High Rates of Street Homelessness
Governor Kathy Hochul today announced the availability $38.2 million in state funding to establish eight Safe Options Support teams that will provide intensive outreach, engagement and care coordination services to individuals who are experiencing homelessness in areas of the state outside of New York City. Funded through the State Office of Mental Health, these teams will be modeled after ones now providing assistance to unsheltered individuals staying on the streets and within the subway system in New York City and will be deployed in areas of the state with high rates of street homelessness.
"Far too many New Yorkers are living unhoused in our communities, lacking the resources and support they need to get back on their feet," Governor Hochul said. "These outreach professionals will help provide immediate assistance and develop a positive relationship with individuals living on the street - helping them access the services they can rely on to start on a path toward stability."
The Safe Options Support teams include behavioral health professionals that specialize in connecting New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to critical services and shelter. They include licensed clinicians, care managers and peer specialists who will work closely with local government, community partners, hospitals, law enforcement and others.
The State Office of Mental Health is providing up to $4.7 million over five years to establish each of the eight teams. Each of the teams will be located outside of New York City in an area of the state with the most immediate and acute need, according to the request for proposals released last week.
Similar teams were deployed in New York City last year to provide support and assistance to unsheltered individuals staying on the streets and within the subway system. To date, 10 teams total have had more than 4,500 outreach encounters with individuals experiencing homelessness, many of whom were living with mental illness, with nearly 200 individuals placed in temporary shelter settings and more than 600 having agreed to receive ongoing assistance from the teams.
Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, "Safe Options Support teams establish trust and relationships with some of the most vulnerable people in the state, who are often very difficult to engage in services. The SOS team model is working in New York City, and I'm pleased that we will soon have teams in other regions of the state experiencing high rates of homelessness among people living with mental illness."
Safe Options Support teams work with individuals experiencing homelessness to help build life skills and strengthen their support network so that their care can successfully be transferred to community-based health care providers. In addition to outreach, the teams also accept referrals from hospitals, social services departments, law enforcement, community providers and others that work in areas where they interact with unhoused individuals.
These teams utilize Critical Time Intervention, an evidence-based practice that helps connect vulnerable individuals to housing and services during difficult times of transition in their lives. Under this model, the teams quickly establish contact and conduct assertive and persistent outreach to establish trust and foster engagement. The teams will provide coordinated care transition activities and support, starting from the time of referral through transition to community housing, treatment and supports.
Referrals are reviewed and coordinated in close collaboration with the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, local departments of social services and other key stakeholders to ensure rapid connection and prevent any duplication of services. Services will be provided for up to 12 months, pre- and post-housing placement, with an intensive initial outreach and engagement period that includes multiple visits per week, each for several hours.
Individuals engaged by the teams will be helped with self-management skills and activities of daily living with the goal of achieving self-efficacy and recovery. The teams' outreach is aimed at facilitating connection to treatment and support services.
In addition to these Safe Options Support teams and the ones now operating in New York City, Governor Hochul called for adding another eight teams - five in New York City and three in the rest of the state - as part of her comprehensive plan to overhaul New York's continuum of mental health care and drastically reduce the number of individuals with unmet mental health needs. Announced during the 2023 State of the State, this $1 billion multi-year investment is aimed at dramatically expanding outpatient and inpatient services, establishing new school-based mental health clinics for students, creating 3,500 additional units of housing for people with mental illness and expanding insurance coverage for mental health services.
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz said, "This model recognizes the multiple challenges faced by many people experiencing homelessness and living on the streets. It has proven successful at connecting people to low-barrier shelter and services. Governor Hochul's expansion of this program to communities outside of New York City is welcome and provides hope for some of our most vulnerable fellow New Yorkers."
Office of Addiction Services and Supports Commissioner Chinazo Cunningham said, "We know that the homeless are amongst some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. We must continue to do all we can to meet the needs of unhoused individuals. Safe Option Support teams will be critical to helping meet people where they are in a non-stigmatizing, non-judgmental manner to help connect them to the appropriate programs and services."
State Senator Samra Brouk said, "Housing insecurity is a growing problem in upstate cities, and I am encouraged that Governor Hochul is investing in supports to connect people with critical resources. We must meet folks where they are so that they can voluntarily seek the treatment they need, and I am hopeful that these programs will be successful in our community."
Assemblymember Aileen Gunther said, “I am happy to see New York state investing in these Safe Options Support teams to help New York’s most vulnerable residents. Their assistance in getting unhoused and underserved New Yorkers the help they need is vital, especially in our upstate communities. We need to continue our commitment to helping those who need it most, and ensure that we expand these teams so that they are available throughout New York State.”
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