County extends human services outreach

HUDSON–The County On-Call crisis line, mental health clinics in schools and Section 8 housing highlighted the meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, July 18.

The Columbia County Department of Human Services runs a 24-hour crisis helpline, 518 828-9446, and is planning a campaign to make more people aware of it. By calling that number, one can get connected to help for crises such as opioid abuse, mental health issues, domestic violence and homelessness. During business hours, a person at the Mental Health Center answers the phone, determines the caller’s needs, and transfers the caller to the most relevant service provider. At other times, the county Sheriff’s Office answers the call and routes the call to an appropriate service provider, a licensed behavioral health professional on duty.

At the July 18 meeting, supervisors discussed both how to improve the helpline and the upcoming publicity campaign. The campaign will include billboards, which must be succinct enough for individuals driving past to absorb accurately. “The most important thing is to get the message out,” said Supervisor Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook), the chairman of the committee.

In another matter, the committee also voted to recommend establishing a new satellite mental health clinic in Ichabod Crane School District, despite the existence of such a clinic in the Valatie Medical Arts building (VMA) which is near the school. The school administrators see “students in distress,” said Michael Cole, director of human services for the county. The school’s counselors are all trained in things other than “mental health services,” he said. But even to get such services, officials want the students to stay on school grounds rather than going off site. “The longer they stay in school, the more they’ll learn,” Mr. Cole said.

He also mentioned another advantage of offering services on the Ichabod Crane campus, saying, “We are seeing less stigmatizing” of students who use special services discretely in the school rather than traveling off school grounds. In addition, the school “is a safe environment,” with many people considering it safer than the offsite facility.

“That is one of the most important points,” said Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward).

The county agency already runs satellite mental health clinics in other schools in the county.

Mr. Cole said that when the county has mental health service at a site, “it strengthens our relationship” with the site. “If we later find it not financially viable, we can change course. But I think we need to give it a chance.”

Mr. Grattan said that if the county provides more resources for schools, the resources should include education to prevent drug abuse. “There is a component for people who are already using drugs,” he said, “but what is being done about prevention? You should pro-actively educate people about drug danger. I would like to see something happening now.”

“The proximity of a mental health counselor in the school will increase the chance of anti-drug education,” said Dan Almasi, director of clinical services for the Mental Health Center.

“There is a crossover between substance abuse and mental health,” said Mr. Hughes.

“Drug prevention is not covered by medical insurance,” Mr. Cole noted.

In other business at the committee meeting Supervisor Sarah Sterling (D-Hudson, 1st Ward), deputy chair of the committee reported, “As a real estate broker, I hear about problems people with Section 8 vouchers have finding apartments,” she said. “A woman with a couple of kids gets the voucher and is told to call landlords” of available apartments. But she said the landlord usually wants a security deposit, sometimes first and last month’s rent. Sometimes the tenant must also pay a fee to a real estate agency. Often the rental-seeker lacks money to cover these extra costs.

Ms. Sterling said some landlords do not want tenants who receive housing assistance from the federal Section 8 housing program. Some demand extra paperwork. “I don’t even meet half” of these potential renters, said Ms. Sterling. “When they hear what else they have to do, they give up.”

County Social Services Commissioner Bob Gibson said there is a “supplement in addition to Section 8” to help qualifying clients pay rental initiation costs. The main problem, he said, is “getting landlords around town not to discriminate.” When they see Section 8, or a veteran’s voucher, a “red flag goes up,” he said.

The next meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors will take place Wednesday, August 15, at 4 p.m. at 401 State Street.

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