Alliance Note: This morning Alliance staff joined New York City Councilmembers and City Clubhouse members, staff, and community supporters at a rally to save smaller clubhouses which provide essential support to many New Yorkers. Councilmembers and attendees from the Clubhouse community stated their support and gratitude for the Mayor and City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) goal of increasing membership, but shared concerns about the current structure of the proposal and the negative effects it could have. Speakers at the rally expressed the need for the city and mayor’s office to work with existing Clubhouses to create a better plan to reach the goal of tripling city membership. See below for more information and stay on the lookout for more information on the rally and other efforts to change the current structure of the proposal.
Nearly two dozen NYC councilmembers join fight to save mental health clubhouses
By Caroline Lewis | Gothamist | January 3, 2024
Almost two dozen members of the New York City Council are banding together with mental health consumers to urge Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to reverse course on a plan that could force some of the city’s mental health clubhouses to close. Advocates say the closures are worrisome even as more funding for the clubhouse model becomes available.
Several councilmembers joined a rally to “save mental health clubhouses” outside City Hall on Wednesday morning. The rally followed more than 20 councilmembers sending a letter about the issue to Adams and city Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan on Tuesday, referencing past reporting by Gothamist.
Among other concerns, the officials cautioned that reducing the overall number of clubhouses would violate a local law passed last year that requires the city to create at least five new clubhouses by the end of 2025.
Clubhouses are community spaces operated in part by their members: people with serious mental illnesses who might otherwise be socially isolated. The model, which was born in New York in the 1940s, has been shown to help reduce spending on emergency room visits and hospitalizations while providing members with educational and employment opportunities.
New requirements loom
The Adams administration is planning to invest up to $30 million to triple clubhouse membership from 5,000 to 15,000 in the next two fiscal years. But the money will come with new requirements that clubhouse administrators say will be difficult for most of the existing facilities to meet.
The city is making all 16 current clubhouses across the five boroughs reapply for their funding, but a request for proposals, or RFP, released in September indicates the city health department aims to issue only 13 new contracts. The RFP sets out ambitious benchmarks for clubhouses regarding their number of overall members and daily attendance and lays out target ZIP codes where clubhouses should be located.
Some clubhouse members, though, say they prefer smaller settings and, more importantly, don’t want to lose relationships they’ve formed at their current clubhouses.
“Our goal is to expand the capacity and quality of clubhouses,” city health department spokesperson Rachel Vick said in response to concerns about the new requirements in November. “Reviewing and reinvigorating the contracts after more than a decade will connect members to resources to help them thrive in 2023 and beyond.”
The department did not immediately comment Wednesday.
‘My clubhouse keeps me well’
At the rally, clubhouse members held signs, including ones reading “Keep my community together” and “My clubhouse keeps me well.”
“Without Lifelinks, my recovery would have been impossible,” said Sylvia Pizarro, 33, a member of the Queens clubhouse. “I started going to Lifelinks because I was depressed starting college. And now I feel I have grown, matured, developed social relationships with the people there, the members, and we’ve become united and we’ve become a family.”
Lifelinks would likely have to move or close under the city’s new funding requirements as it’s based within a hospital in Elmhurst and the RFP indicates clubhouses shouldn’t be located in institutional settings, the clubhouse’s director Dice Cooper told Gothamist in November. He said finding new real estate for the facility could be difficult.
“The city struggles with a mental health crisis and this is a model that is truly community-centered and worthy of investment and expansion,” Queens Councilmember Linda Lee, chair of the committee on mental health, disabilities and addictions, said at the rally.
She added she was “overjoyed” the mayor was investing more money into clubhouses but that a “one-size-fits-all approach of scaling up clubhouses would be a disservice to our city.”
3,000 sign petition
Councilmember Lincoln Restler of Brooklyn said he was disappointed in Vasan, who became city health commissioner after serving as CEO of Fountain House, a clubhouse in Manhattan.
“This was supposed to be our champion for expanding clubhouses into every neighborhood and every community,” Restler said. “But what does the department of health do? They put out an RFP that would shut down great clubhouses across the City of New York.
The letter councilmembers sent to Vasan and Adams on Tuesday criticized the administration’s focus on creating large clubhouses and raised concerns the city is not covering startup costs for clubhouses that will have to move to different neighborhoods or bigger spaces under the new requirements.
A petition to stop the city from closing any clubhouses had nearly 3,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
The deadline for clubhouses to apply for the new funding has been extended multiple times and is now coming up on Jan. 17, according to the councilmembers’ letter.