Op-Ed: The Time Is NOW To Save Community-Based Clubhouses

June 22, 2024

by Patricia C. Jordan

The Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center has offered a Clubhouse program.

Which offers individuals with severe and persistent mental illness, a supportive environment where they are encouraged and assisted to reach their individual & self-determined goals for more than three decades.

Our program follows the model set forth by Clubhouse International – to provide a collaborative, restorative environment where members can recover by gaining access to opportunities for employment, socialization, education, and skill development. The success in following these guidelines in addition to the accomplishments our members have experienced over the years is why our program is one of several accredited Clubhouse programs in the City of New York.

“… learn skills necessary to find meaningful employment.”

Through Rainbow Clubhouse, our members develop healthy relationships and are provided with an opportunity to learn skills necessary to find meaningful employment. Members are encouraged to participate in various training opportunities including obtaining OSHA certifications which have led to positions with road crews and other competitive jobs which require this type of specific certification.  The Clubhouse experience has also led to Transitional Employment both at the Bowen Center as well as outside locations, including seasonal positions at Yankee Stadium and jobs in the food industry.

With more than 350 enrolled members, of which 146 are active members, close to two-thirds of those members utilize many of the Bowen Center’s other programs and services including addiction treatment, Food Pantry and social services. We are proud to be able to offer our Clubhouse members these additional programs and services for their long-term health and wellness. However, it also means that if we were forced to close Rainbow Clubhouse, the ripple would be felt through our entire organization which currently supports more than 5,000 clients.

We wholeheartedly applaud the Adams Administration’s increased investment in mental health funding. Where we disagree is that it should not come at the expense of community-based organizations like ours.

We have worked diligently to establish roots not only in the Harlem community but citywide, because our clients come to us from all five boroughs, as is true for many of the other Clubhouses throughout the city in jeopardy of losing their funding. We all have a responsibility to our clients to provide them with the stability and the support they rely on us. And because we take that responsibility very seriously, many of us in the mental health community are more than concerned about the city’s decision to rush through this monumental change in the Clubhouse structure throughout New York City.

Closing community-based Clubhouses in order to establish larger mega Clubhouses defies all reasoning. It’s akin to the growing sizes of classrooms in our schools that can result in many children falling through the cracks because a teacher can only do so much. How can we expect individuals suffering from severe mental illness, to thrive in situations where more than 300 individuals are expected to be seen on a daily basis? How is the personal touch that Clubhouse members currently receive going to be continued in an environment where many of them will be overwhelmed by the volume of individuals surrounding them?

These are questions that we, other organizations and elected officials have been asking for months to no avail. It is impossible to see a scenario where all of the new Clubhouses that are expected to be established, will be up and running wholly by October 1st of this year – which begs two questions, what happens to the members whose Clubhouses are forced to close, and equally important: what does the rush accomplish other than facilitate the abandonment of our members who have a profound need for the support their existing Clubhouses offer?

We have been expected to work on transitioning our members to join other Clubhouses – that currently do not exist. It is for this reason we continue to ask the city and Department of Mental Hygiene to extend the contracts of all Clubhouses through FY 2025, to allow the new Clubhouses to become fully operational. This is the only way to ensure that all Clubhouse members are given the time they will need to acclimate to a new situation, whereupon they can visit the new Clubhouses to choose the one that feels right for them. Anything less is not fair to them.

This will also allow organizations like the Bowen Center, which remains committed to continuing our Rainbow Clubhouse program, the time necessary to secure a new funding model that will sustain the program long term.

“… hear our pleas …”

We ask that the city hear our pleas which is on behalf of all New York City Clubhouse members. Many of them have worked hard to get to where they are today, thanks to their dedication to their individual Clubhouses. Please don’t stop their progress.

Please, extend Clubhouse funding for community-based Clubhouses through FY 2025.

Particia C. Jordan

Patricia C. Jordan has been a volunteer with the Emma L. Bowen Community Service since its inception. She spent thirty years of her career with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), from which she retired as Director of Operations. Before joining HPD, positions included Assistant to the Deputy Chancellor of the Board of Education and liaison to the Partnership for New York City under BOE Chancellor Frank Macchiarola, Consultant on school-based planning and management for the New York Economic Development Council. She is also a long time Board Member of the Emma L Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media.

The Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center

Based in Harlem, the Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center provides mental health and addiction treatment as well as providing advocacy and connections to needed services such as physicians, nutrition, entitlements and benefits, food stamps, legal services, and rehabilitation services to more than 5,000 clients annually to Harlem / Upper Manhattan residents and individuals/families from all five boroughs.

Established more than three decades to help combat the stigma of mental health illness in the Harlem community, by ensuring that the community had a local resource where they would feel comfortable, the Bowen Center has become a beacon for all those in need, but especially the city’s most vulnerable, many of whom are low-income individuals living below the poverty line.

Bowen’s broad array of programs and services allows this important nonprofit to work with individuals of all ages—from infants to senior citizens, both in-person and through telehealth, as appropriate, in accordance with a client’s needs and preferences. https://bowencsc.org/

Photo credit: Emma L. Bowen. Source.

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