In life, Helen Rehr led a distinguished, trailblazing career in social work. She was known for revolutionizing and standardizing the field of social work, and her long career at Mt Sinai, where she retired in her role as Chair of the Division of Social Work in 1986. Ms. Rehr was also a longtime donor at FJC. Since her death in 2013, FJC has honored her philanthropic legacy by honoring her wishes through a Board-advised Fund, “to identify worthwhile projects determined by FJC to be used for social services, research or training projects all to enhance health and mental health care for vulnerable populations within the State of Israel and the City of New York.”
This year FJC issued a Request for Proposals that put a timely focus on her programmatic wishes: “organizations engaged in social work research and/or training projects focused on developing alternatives to the current police response when encountering the mentally ill in NY.” Each year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) responds to nearly 200,000 calls regarding individuals experiencing mental health crises. In the past five years alone, notwithstanding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s implementation of crisis intervention training for police officers, 18 individuals were fatally shot by police when experiencing a mental health crisis, and 15 of those 18 individuals were Black or Brown.
The winning response to the RFP came from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), working in coordination with program partner Community Access. The $100,000 grant will fund the two organizations to advocate for New York City to establish a non-police response to mental health crises, which will consist of trained peers (those with lived mental health experience) and independent emergency medical technicians whose aim is to de-escalate violence and administer proper assistance through a non-police mental healthcare response.
Recognizing that creating an alternate response to mental health crises means doing as much as possible to ensure crises never happen in the first place, NYLPI will also develop a training geared to such frontline workers as social workers to de-escalate crises, building on a Community Access training module that seeks to equip workers with the knowledge and de-escalation skills to make compassionate connections with people in crisis.
“We could not be more grateful for the FJC’s generous support of this critical work,” said Ruth Lowenkron, Director of NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program who spearheads NYLPI’s work in this area. “For far too long, our citizens who experience mental health crises have been neglected and worse. It is high time to transform the way New York responds to mental health crises an ensure that all New Yorkers are provided the services they need and are treated with the dignity they deserve.”
NYLPI will leverage the grant from the Helen Rehr fund as a match for their #MentalHealthCareNotPolice campaign, which NYLPI and its coalition partners will be highlighting throughout the year in a series of events in public parks. Visit NYLPI’s website for more information.