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MHEP Calls on Legislature to Pass EPIC

March 11, 2024

ALBANY, NY: The Mental Health Empowerment Project (MHEP) stands in full support of the EPIC (Eviction Prevention and Intervention Collaborative) program, an initiative proposed by Albany County Legislator Sam Fein and supported by the Albany County Legislature with a $160,000 allocation in December 2022. EPIC represents a critical step forward in addressing the housing crisis that deeply impacts our community.

HOMELESSNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH

The link between homelessness and mental health is undeniable and tragic. Homelessness not only exacerbates existing mental health conditions but also creates an environment where new mental health issues can arise. The stability that comes with having a safe and consistent place to live is foundational to mental wellness. Without this stability, individuals are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other mental health challenges.

HOW EPIC ADDRESSES THE CRISIS

EPIC is designed to provide comprehensive support to tenants facing eviction – a situation that can lead directly to homelessness. By offering legal counsel to those in need, particularly targeting lower-income households, EPIC addresses a critical gap in our social safety net. Legal representation in eviction proceedings is a powerful tool that can prevent homelessness and the subsequent mental health spiral that often follows.

Furthermore, EPIC’s approach to rental arrears payment is an essential component of preventing homelessness. By assisting tenants in catching up on overdue rent, while simultaneously ensuring that landlords are compensated, the program helps maintain the tenant’s housing and supports the landlord-tenant ecosystem’s health. This proactive approach is crucial for mental wellness, as it prevents the trauma and uncertainty associated with eviction and potential homelessness.

THE NECESSITY OF LEGAL REPRESENTATION

The stark disparity in legal representation—where less than 2% of tenants facing eviction have legal counsel, compared to approximately 95% of landlords—is a gap that EPIC courageously seeks to bridge. Legal representation in housing matters is not merely a legal advantage; it is a fundamental necessity that upholds the dignity and rights of individuals at risk of losing their homes. This representation is especially critical for those suffering from mental illness, who may find the complexities of legal proceedings and the stress of eviction insurmountable barriers to maintaining their housing and, by extension, their mental health.

A CALL TO ACTION

The Mental Health Empowerment Project applauds the efforts of Legislator Sam Fein, the Albany County Legislature, LASSNY, and United Tenants of Albany (UTA) in bringing the EPIC program to fruition. MHEP recognizes the profound impact this program will have on preventing homelessness and its devastating effects on mental health. We urge the Albany County Legislature to approve the necessary contracts and funding to ensure the EPIC program’s swift and effective implementation. Together, we can create a future where mental health is protected through the stability of housing and the safeguarding of legal rights in eviction proceedings.