Summit to tackle gaps in McKees Rocks mental health services
February 1, 2016 12:00 AM
Volunteers Preston Tyson and Mary Kay Coleman laugh between clients at the Focus on Renewal Community Center food pantry in McKees Rocks.
Sister Sarah Crotty serves as the assistant director of Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks.
David Murphy, 74, of McKees Rocks, has a meal at the Focus on Renewal Community Center in McKees Rocks.
Alphonso Dennis, a volunteer with Focus on Renewal Community Center, sorts through food pantry donations at center in McKees Rocks.
By Joe Smydo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Seeking support for a large population with mental illness, civic leaders in McKees Rocks have called mental health agencies to a summit Wednesday, hoping they will ramp up services and have a greater stake in the community’s turnaround efforts.
“It is expected that this will be the start of a series of action-oriented meetings that will address a comprehensive plan to fully serve this vulnerable population,” Cynthia L. Haines, executive director of Focus on Renewal, said in an email.
FOR, a nonprofit with a community center that attracts many people with mental illness, organized the meeting.
McKees Rocks and Homestead were featured Jan. 3 in the first installment of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “No Safe Harbor” series on mental illness and housing. The story quoted law enforcement, emergency medical service and other officials as saying they’ve seen an increase in mental health-related calls in recent years and believe that their economically disadvantaged communities are home to above-average numbers of people with mental illness, partly because of low housing costs.
Since then, civic leaders in McKees Rocks said they view improved services for the mentally ill as an integral part of a comprehensive community improvement plan that includes other health and wellness initiatives, new educational opportunities, economic development, more green space and recreational amenities.
“We’re not running from this issue. We’re embracing it,” said Taris Vrcek, executive director of McKees Rocks Community Development Corp.
Sister Sarah Crotty, FOR associate director, said the agency believes it has been subsidizing mental health services through the community center, which provides a gathering place, serves lunch and operates a food bank. She said the agency has neither the funds nor expertise to serve that population, however, and would like mental health providers to help.
Civic leaders would like more partners in their efforts to uplift the community and break what one civic leader, James Hogan, pastor of Faithbridge Community Ministries, called an inter-generational cycle of poverty, defeatism and mental health issues.
“I know a 38-year-old woman with four children, who just says, ‘I can’t,’ ” he said.
While mental health services are important, Mr. Vrcek said, additional help from the local foundation community also would be appreciated.
The community is proud of recent steps forward, including a light-up night that attracted hundreds of people; a restored facade, with a giant guitar, at Hollowood Music & Sound; new nutrition and theater programs; and CSX’s construction of a $60 million intermodal facility.
About 10 organizations providing mental health services have been invited to Wednesday’s conference.
Pittsburgh Mercy, one of the area’s largest providers of mental health services, said it will participate in “this important community meeting.”
“We believe we have a lot to contribute to the discussion,” Bob Adamson, the agency’s senior director of behavioral health services, said in an email.
Pittsburgh Mercy operates supportive housing for people with mental illness in the McKees Rocks area. Spokeswoman Linda Ross said it’s too soon to say what additional services the agency might provide.
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services also will attend, spokeswoman Elaine Plunkett said in an email.
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