Christine Stuart photo
Betty Boyd of New Haven (Christine Stuart photo)

Betty Boyd of New Haven considers herself blessed.

The 61 year old was homeless for 10 years before finding a place she could call home. Boyd, who suffers from schizophrenia, said Fellowship Place helped her find supportive housing and get off the street.

While Boyd’s not in danger of losing her home advocates said there are many like her who may not find a home or the prescription drugs they need if Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s policy decisions make it through the legislature.

This past December as the economy continued to spiral downward, Rell’s administration ended its support of a $35 million commitment to build 150 new supportive housing units throughout the state.

Then when Rell released her budget on Feb. 4 she decided psychotropic drugs would no longer be exempt from the state’s preferred drug list.

Alicia Woodsby, public policy director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI-CT, said that means the governor will get to say which drugs are covered and which drugs aren’t. The problem is that some drugs work for some people and not for others, she said.

And while the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee tried to correct the governor’s policy by exempting those currently on drugs which are working, it would require prior authorization for any newly diagnosed individuals, Woodsby said.

Woodsby said exempting all psychotropic drugs for the next two years will cost the state $2 million, but eliminating the exemption will create barriers and ultimately end up costing the state more money. She said if the drugs are not exempt the state will end up spending more money on institutional care, both hospitals and prisons, for those unable to get the appropriate medication.

Advocates of both mental health and supportive housing were at the Capitol Tuesday to make sure legislators know what these two issues mean to them.

“Life in the community is not possible if you lose either one of those,” Amy O’Connor, public policy assistant at NAMI-CT, said.

Boyd can attest to that. She said the Connecticut Mental Health Center and Fellowship Place helped her tackle her mental illness and find her a supportive housing unit at the same time. She said it’s not good to be on the street. “It’s nice to have your own home and buy your own food,” Boyd said.

Carol Walter, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said in January 2009 Connecticut’s shelters were at 100 percent occupancy, which was up 9 percent from January 2008.

The number of children living in homeless shelters went up 13 percent from 2007 to 2008, Walter said.

Simply put, “we need supportive housing,” Walter said.

“We have a simple message,” Jan Van Tassel, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project said. “It is a message of hope, recovery, and most importantly, proven solutions that work for persons with mental illness and for taxpayers.”