Starting in November, The Austin YMCA will no longer offer services for mental health patients.

Ralph Harris, the Y’s recently-appointed executive director, confirmed that with Austin Weekly News after concerns arose in the community that the nearly 100-year-old facility near Lake and Central would also be closing its residency rooms as well. Harris maintained that the rooms are not closing and will remain open.

“Management though, thought it was best to discontinue the mental health program to focus more time and resources on some of our other human services programs,” he said.

The Austin YMCA, located at 501 N. Central, first opened in 1913 and currently has 292 residency rooms for low-income families, allowing them access to case management services and housing; 29 of these rooms were allocated toward the mental health program, which began in 1995.

When word began to spread about the facility’s intention to close a “residency program,” some in the community feared that meant all of its residency rooms. The mental health services program was a collaboration between the Austin Y and the Illinois Department of Mental Health.”

“We trained case workers to council the patients and provided housing to the ones that could not take care of themselves,” said Fran Bell, vice-president of government and community relations for the Metropolitan YMCA.

Nevertheless, despite the relative success of the program, Bell insisted that a change was needed.

“We just decided that we were better off working on prevention than intervention,” she said. “We felt that there were other organizations that could do mental health programs more effectively than we were able to, and as a result we decided to discontinue it.”

Bell added that “human services” are what the facility “does best” and that discontinuing mental health services will be a decision that will benefit both the patients and the YMCA. Bell said it is not yet clear what, if any, changes will be made to the facilities existing staff, in particular the staffers who had been working with the patients.

“There has not been a formal decision made about any changes in our current staff at the Austin Y. That decision,” she said, “will probably be made after the patients have been relocated to an alternative mental health facility at the end of October.”