NY Post: NYLPI Organizer Urges Mayor to Make ThriveNYC Conference More Inclusive

November 15, 2019

Criminal Justice, Disability Justice, Health Justice, Media Coverage, News, Policing and Mental Health Crises

The New York Post quoted NYLPI Health Justice Organizer Mia Soto in its article, Just seven mayors to attend Chirlane McCray’s annual ThriveNYC conference:

“Although we commend the mayor’s efforts and commitment to building a national, cities-based movement for mental health reform, he has neglected to include any disability rights advocates, or anyone with lived experience, as part of the conference agenda,” said Mia Soto an organizer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

“Moreover, we question his leadership in this area where he continues to deploy police to respond to mental health crises, in a city where 16 individuals experiencing mental health crises have been shot at the hands of the police in the last three years alone — 14 of them shot to death.

Here’s the full text of the Post’s story:

Just seven mayors to attend Chirlane McCray’s annual ThriveNYC conference

Just seven mayors from the more than 200 cities invited to the annual conference put on by ThriveNYC — City Hall’s embattled $1 billion mental health program — actually plan on showing up, The Post has learned.

And none of the mayors who attended the “Cities Thrive” confab in the past are set to return this year, City Hall spokeswoman Siobhan Dingwall admitted Friday.

“There is no news here,” Dingwall insisted. “The Cities Thrive conference is not exclusively for mayors — attendees also include mayoral representatives, elected officials and mental health professionals. It is not uncommon for mayors to send representatives to attend events on their behalf.”

Overall attendance only reaches triple digits by tallying all of those other categories, including other elected officials, behavioral health professionals and commissioners.

A tepid 224 are set to attend this year, up from just 205 in 2018, according to Dingwall.

But the number of mayors in attendance will have remained the same as in 2017 and 2018 — a dismal seven, city records show.

“Both the conference and coalition have grown in size since their inception, proving that people around the world are interested in and inspired by New York City’s leadership on this critical issue,” Dingwall claimed.

None of the executives set to attend the Cities Thrive confab lead cities with populations of more than 100,000 — and five of them are from nearby communities in New York and New Jersey.

The biggest metropolis represented by a mayor at the conference is the state capital, Albany, which has a population of just under 100,000. The smallest is the tiny New York suburb of Bronxville, which has just 6,500 people.

Private sponsors are picking up the $55,000 tab for two days of panels at New York Law School. The largest backer is EmblemHealth, which holds a $4.1 billion contract to provide health benefits for the city’s employees.

Attendees will enjoy keynotes by Mayor Bill de Blasio and McCray, a networking reception at Gracie Mansion, a “mindfulness” exercise with a Buddhist chaplain and a panel discussion about closing treatment gaps.

“Although we commend the mayor’s efforts and commitment to building a national, cities-based movement for mental health reform, he has neglected to include any disability rights advocates, or anyone with lived experience, as part of the conference agenda,” said Mia Soto an organizer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

“Moreover, we question his leadership in this area where he continues to deploy police to respond to mental health crises, in a city where 16 individuals experiencing mental health crises have been shot at the hands of the police in the last three years alone — 14 of them shot to death.

DJ Jaffe, with the Mental Illness Policy Org, said the conference is more political than substantive.

“It is an opportunity for the mayor to increase his visibility outside New York. These folks come to NYC, get wined and dined by the mayor and his wife, and go back home happy,” Jaffe said.

“The worst thing in the world would be for other cities to adopt the ThriveNYC model, which essentially denies help to the seriously mentally ill so funds can be squandered on improving mental wellness — whatever that is — in the masses,” Jaffe said.

Critics have said Thrive doesn’t do enough to help people in need. Just 12% of Thrive’s $250 million annual budget helps people with serious mental illness, Jaffe said.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who will not be attending the conference and has criticized the mayor’s approach to mental illness, gave a tepid endorsement of the event.

“It’s very encouraging that cities across the country are beginning to recognize the need for systemic change and major investment in the area of mental health, even if ThriveNYC is an imperfect model,” Williams told The Post.

“I hope they’re able to develop real solutions, and maybe over the course of a two-day conference, they’ll come up with an actual report,” he said referencing the mayor’s recent failure to produce a promised “blueprint” to tackle the city’s mental health crises.

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