Advocates preserve $13 million for mental health community housing.
While looking over a list of proposed cuts to the state budget last week, I noticed that $6.5 million were slated to be removed from the Community Housing Trust Fund. That is half of the entire Fund. This was not good.
Back in 1999, a Community Housing Trust Fund was set up by law. The proceeds of the sale of Dammasch State Hospital property (minus sale costs) was directed to be placed into the Trust for investment. Earnings of the account and no more that 5% of the principal were to be available to the state to use for community housing and institutional housing for people with mental illness. Other moneys could be added to the Trust by the legislature or through other sources. The proceeds amounted to about $13 million.
The statute that creates the Trust (ORS 426.506) specifically says that “At least 95 percent of the sale proceeds shall remain in the account in perpetuity.” It also says that “all moneys in the fund are continuously appropriated to the Department of Human Services to carry out” the purpose of the trust.
I alerted our partners on the Community Mental Health Coalition that we needed to take action. We learned that the final decision about the Trust would be made this week. NAMI Oregon sent an alert to its members and many organizations and individuals sent messages to Ways and Means Committee Members asking that the Trust Fund be held harmless.
Today, we received official word that only $400,000 in unspent interest would be taken from the Trust. While not protecting all of the money, this keeps the principal of the Trust intact.
In this budget environment, we have achieved a great victory for the mental health community. A key component to recovery is stable housing. Without it, people are often rendered homeless and are at high risk to experience crisis and institutionalization. We have preserved both the principal and the principles of community housing and trust in government.