Austin YMCA to close its mental health program

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By Robert Felton

The Austin YMCA will no longer offer services for mental health patients as of Nov. 1.

Ralph Harris, the Y’s recently appointed executive director, said the nearly 300 residency rooms will not be affected at the nearly 100-year-old facility at 501 N. Central Ave.

“Management, though, thought it was best to discontinue the mental health program to focus more time and resources on some of our other human services programs,” he said.

The Austin YMCA, which opened in 1913, currently has 292 residency rooms for low-income families, allowing them access to case management services and housing. Twenty-nine of these rooms were allocated toward the mental health program, which began in 1995.

When word began to spread about the facility’s intention to close a “residency program,” some in the community feared that meant all of its residency rooms. The mental health services program was a collaboration between the Austin Y and the Illinois Department of Mental Health.

“We trained case workers to council the patients and provided housing to the ones that could not take care of themselves,” said Fran Bell, vice president of government and community relations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Nevertheless, despite the relative success of the program, Bell insisted that a change was needed.

“We just decided that we were better off working on prevention than intervention,” she said. “We felt that there were other organizations that could do mental health programs more effectively than we were able to, and as a result we decided to discontinue it.”

Bell added that “human services” are what the facility “does best,” and that discontinuing mental health services will be a decision that will benefit both the patients and the YMCA. Bell said it is not yet clear what, if any, changes will be made to the facilities existing staff, in particular the staffers who had been working with the patients.

“There has not been a formal decision made about any changes in our current staff at the Austin Y. ”

That decision, she said, “will probably be made after the patients have been relocated to an alternative mental health facility at the end of October.”

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