Giving mental patients a place to live and heal

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Rodney Rodriguez does not quite think of himself as an artist. But staying at a Riverdale facility for people in psychological crises has opened up a world of activities that help him deal with his issues.

“I like to do art and drawing. When I get started, I’m drawing houses and flowers, and ground, water, sun, clouds — the whole picture,” Mr. Rodriguez, 24, said while miming the act of drawing. “And I do break dancing.”

He exemplifies the philosophy at the Parachute NYC clinic at 640 W. 232nd St. According to Program Director Osman Mariano, the purpose of the center is to provide clients with a “soft landing” while coping with mental illness — instead of enduring hospital stays.

About three years ago, the state provided funds for one center in each borough as an alternative to sending patients to costly psychiatric wards. Residents are generally limited to a stay of two weeks at the local Parachute NYC site at a three-story brick building run by the Riverdale Mental Health Association (RMHA) beside the Henry Hudson Parkway. 

Research from the Nathan Kline Institute, a government mental health organization, indicates the undertaking could be saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

However, Parachute NYC’s funding expires at the end of June. Mr. Mariano hopes stopgap money from the city will keep the center running after that.

“The preliminary outcome findings from the Nathan Kline Institute show that Parachute should continue to be funded,” he said.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in an e-mail that it is in the “final stages of coordinating carryover funding.”

In a recent interview, Mr. Mariano described the way Parachute NYC works. 

“It’s a model based on engagement,” he said of the program, which houses a maximum of 14 people at a time. Residents have the opportunity to engage in art groups where they can paint or create masks; writing groups where they might pen “gratitude lists” or poems; and cooking groups, where a peer counselor teaches residents how to master simple recipes.

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