The operator of a proposed mental wellness and stabilization center in Brewster to help those with serious challenges has been asked by Putnam County Executive Kevin Bryne to find a new location for the facility.
Weeks of heated controversy was fueled by the ire of some of the 91 parents whose children attend the Over the Rainbow Learning Center, which would have been located next door to the facility in the shopping plaza at 2505 Carmel Ave.
Parents learned a few weeks ago that a lease had been signed to house a 24/7 center for those experiencing trauma, acute mental health issues or substance abuse.
People USA, which had signed the lease, is a nonprofit provider for mental health services. It has been running a similar operation in Dutchess County since 2017.
About 100 community members attended a Oct. 24 forum led by Michael Piazza, commissioner of the Putnam County Departments of Social Services & Mental Health, and Steve Miccio, CEO of People USA, a peer-run mental health nonprofit organization. They explained the acute need for a facility to help people in crisis situations in Putnam County.
Many residents and parents of children at Over the Rainbow who had attended the forum raised deep concerns about the crisis stabilization center being located next door to the child care center.
Last Wednesday, Byrne released a letter stating he had viewed the video of the forum along with receiving numerous letters and phone calls about the proposed stabilization center.
“After careful consideration of all the comments shared and after speaking personally with many individuals throughout the community, my administration has requested People USA to begin a search for a new location,” Byrne wrote. “While it is unfortunate that this will likely delay the opening of a stabilization center in our county, we believe this is the best path forward to ensure its success in Putnam.”
Parent Natalie Fleming, whose eight-month-old twins and a three-year old are enrolled at Over the Rainbow, said she was relieved to learn of the decision.
“As a Putnam County resident and a parent of children attending Over the Rainbow Learning Center, I am grateful for Mr. Byrne’s careful consideration of what would be most beneficial for our children and for his recognition that important projects like the crisis stabilization center deserve the proper planning and location to make them as successful and effective as possible for our community,” Fleming said.
Fleming added that she hoped the stabilization center could open soon in an alternate location to provide much-needed services to county residents without the risk of impacting other crucial social services.
Other parents received Byrne’s letter from Over the Rainbow owner Rita Acerno, who said the decision to relocate the center was sound.
“Many parents who sent letters to Byrne had received his letter and they were all very happy and grateful that they are going to change their location,” Acerno said.
When word spread that the crisis center was likely to move into the shopping center, some parents who were on Acerno’s wait list had asked they be removed from the list.
“A few parents on the waiting list who had previously asked to be taken off have now asked to be put back on,” Acerno said.
Miccio said the decision was unfortunate and one he felt was driven by misinformation.
“It’s sad when stigma prevails from such a small part of a beautiful community,” Miccio said. “Fear of the unknown can create resistance to change even when that change is beneficial to all. When community members suddenly experience a loved one who is challenged with mental health or substance use, organizations like ours are suddenly embraced and appreciated.”
Miccio said the goal was to now find a new site in Putnam County where his organization will warmly welcome everyone and help them through any challenges.
The new location needs to be in buildings located in areas zoned to be open 24/7. According to Byrne spokesman Christopher Formisano, the search for a new location is underway.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/