Putnam Crisis Center Faces Backlash

Opposition to Brewster site forces new search 

Putnam County will renew its search to find a home for a drop-in center where residents can get help with mental-health and substance-abuse problems following a backlash to a proposed location in Brewster. 

County Executive Kevin Byrne said in a letter to residents on Nov. 1 that he directed People USA, the nonprofit that operates Dutchess County’s Stabilization Center in Poughkeepsie, to abandon plans to locate Putnam’s version above a day care center in a Brewster shopping center.

In response to the organization’s plan to lease space above the Over the Rainbow Learning Center, the Southeast Town Board on Oct. 12 approved a six-month moratorium on permits for medical and mental-health clinics, specifically including a “mental health crisis or stabilization center.” (The Village of Brewster is within the Town of Southeast.)

Twelve days later, angry residents attending a public forum on the center conjured images of drunk and drugged clients loitering outside, endangering children and littering the ground with drug paraphernalia. 

Byrne said he remains committed to the project, to which his predecessor, MaryEllen Odell, directed $2.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds. 

“While it is unfortunate that this will likely delay the opening of the stabilization center in our county, we believe this is the best path forward to ensure its success in Putnam,” Byrne wrote. 

Along with Putnam and Westchester, two dozen New York counties are planning to open stabilization centers, said Michael Piazza Jr., commissioner of the Putnam County Department of Social Services and Mental Health. The interest comes amid a rise in mental health problems, drug overdoses and suicides. 

People USA spent months looking for a location, said Steve Miccio, the nonprofit’s CEO. Two properties were not zoned for 24-hour use, and a site at the Putnam Hospital Center fell through when hospital administrators decided they needed the space, he said.

(Mark Hirko, Putnam Hospital Center’s president, said: “As far as we understood, the county was possibly not interested in our site due to space considerations. If that is not the case, we are happy to continue the conversation with county leaders on finding the right location for the Crisis Stabilization Center.”)

Miccio said the facility would be quiet and safe.

Both Miccio and Piazza touted the benefits of Dutchess County’s Stabilization Center, which never closes and is staffed by representatives from multiple agencies. It’s an alternative to emergency rooms, where people often are sent home without being linked to any services, said Miccio. Most are struggling with anxiety, depression and trauma, and half are children and families, he said.

“At the center, they can be seen and cared for,” said Miccio. “What we do is guarantee that they’re going to be in a service in the community that’s going to address their needs.”

Although Miccio described the facility in Poughkeepsie as quiet and safe, the proposed location of the Stabilization Center in Brewster was the chief concern of many residents who spoke at the forum.  

Natalie Fleming said she is a teacher with three children enrolled at Over the Rainbow. She said the center’s owner told parents that some people were pulling their children from the day care.

Although she said she believes that 99.9 percent of the people using the facility would be nonviolent, “with my children in the day care, 99.9 percent is not going to be good enough. 

“It’s not because the services you offer aren’t valuable; I think they are hugely necessary,” she said. “I do not think this is the appropriate location for it.”

One thought on “Putnam Crisis Center Faces Backlash

  1. Recently, I attended a meeting for the public featuring a presentation by Steve Miccio, CEO of People USA, which plans to launch a Crisis Stabilization Center in Putnam County. The location was to be in Brewster and the center would have been a sorely needed option for Putnam residents experiencing mental health crises.

    Unlike other mental health services available in the county, the center would have provided a walk-in option for people needing emergency assistance but who don’t meet the criteria for hospitalization. People USA operates such a facility in Dutchess County, and it has been wildly successful.

    At the meeting, a group of parents shouted down the idea for the sole reason that the planned location was near a daycare center. Despite the fact that another mental health facility — Mental Health Association Putnam — had operated in the same space for years, parents made comments about hypothetical clients, who they seemed to think would overwhelmingly consist of pedophiles, criminals and active drug users.

    Nevermind that Miccio’s presentation noted that children and families are 50 percent of those served by the Dutchess center, and that the top three diagnoses are depression, anxiety and trauma. The assumption that children are better off without more mental health services in the county than with them is completely backward.

    The hypocrisy is mind-blowing. A county run by Republicans, the party that protects and defends the Second Amendment at all costs and regularly blames the “real problem” on inadequate mental health services, just shot down the one opportunity this county has had in decades to provide better options to people.

    I see an inordinate number of parents in Putnam wasting time screaming on social media about drag queens and drag story hours, or filing false reports about LGBTQ+-affirming teachers and curricula under the guise of concern for kids. No one is buying it anymore. It’s painfully clear that your true motivations stem from the age-old, incredibly unimaginative Fear of the Other.

    The parents who complained and the decision-makers who denied this center should be ashamed.

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