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NYC clubhouses for mentally challenged adults face potential funding cuts. Here's what members say is at stake.

NYC day centers for seriously mental ill adults in danger of closing
NYC day centers for seriously mental ill adults in danger of closing 02:26

NEW YORK - At the end of June, New York City will stop funding several sites that serve as day centers for seriously mentally ill adults. Clients at Harlem's Rainbow Clubhouse shared the hardships they fear they will face if their clubhouse closes.

Inside the Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center in West Harlem, some of its most vulnerable neighbors find a safe space inside the Rainbow Clubhouse. From workshops on coping skills to workforce development, adults living with a variety of mental challenges spend nearly every day there.

"Somewhere that you could go be normal, feel normal and get paid? Everything was plus," said Diana Denny, who now helps others as an employee.

Clients were excited when they heard the city would invest an additional $30 million in the clubhouse model, but the Adams administration announced a plan to consolidate the clubhouses into larger central locations that serve 300 clients or more, cutting off money to more intimate spaces like Rainbow.

Disorders like severe anxiety prevent many participants from traveling more than a few blocks from home.

"There is no other place for them to go," explained Bowen Center deputy executive director Lawrence Fowler. "So what has happened is, in essence, you're abandoning people to the streets."

"The last thing you want a person to do that has nothing to do is walk the street because trouble will find you," Denny added. "Trouble is easy to get in. It is hard to get out."

Leonora Noble suffered severe depression as a teen and has been walking a path towards a degree in social work for kids who remind her of herself.

"Working at the front desk is helping me be more professional over the phone," Noble said. "I'm building better communication skills."

Anthony Morrishow's tech skills have soared through the program's podcast and poetry publication, for which he designed the cover art.

"My house is spotless now," Morrishow boasted. "And it's now more of a reflection, and I'm learning how to actually love myself."

The new consolidated Harlem location is still undetermined, as the provider awarded the city contract does not currently operate a clubhouse.

"It's not that they're not doing the great work," said Council Member Linda Lee (D-Queens), who heads the mental health committee. "We should have as much access for services and meet people where they are, no matter what that looks like. So we should have more options, not less."

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene offered a statement, explaining:

"The city's plan includes more money for more services and we will do whatever it takes to keep communities intact. As we embark on this plan to expand clubhouse services, our goal is to ensure communities stay intact in addition to reaching the thousands of New Yorkers who are currently shut out of the system. By expanding the clubhouse model, more New Yorkers will receive services."

A spokesperson acknowledged the department will work with the programs that lost their contracts to find other potential funding options, and work with Clubhouse clients to ensure they have a transition plan in place.

Have a story idea or tip in Harlem? Email Jessi by CLICKING HERE.

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