February 19, 2023

Long Island’s Health And Welfare Council Hosts Social Justice Meeting In Plainview

By Lauren Feldman

 February 19, 2023

Read on The Nassau Observer

On Thursday, Feb. 2, the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, acronymed the HWCLI, came to Plainview for their Winter quarterly meeting on the state of social justice. The HWCLI is a network of nonprofit agencies, individuals, and corporations who come together “to address our region’s challenges and create innovative, systematic solutions.” The Council was established 75 years ago and has since grown into a 200-organization network. Recently, they were honored to host New York State Attorney General Letitia James to discuss the state of social justice on Long Island, and potential solutions to help make New York a safer and more equitable place.

HWCLI President & CEO Rebecca Sanin remarked on the state of social inequalities on LI, and encouraged attendees not to give up the fight against injustice. (Photos courtesy of Lauren Feldman)

Beginning the gathering was HWCLI President and CEO Rebecca Sanin, who addressed the crowd of over 200 attendees. She thanked the tireless efforts of those in attendance in the fight against social injustice, and acknowledged the fortitude required to do so. “It is the nonprofit sector that reaches into the shadows and brings problems that are on the fringe into the light for solution building.” Sanin addressed what she described as “social cancers” which have resulted in the proliferation of poverty, pain, and much more. “So many of our systems are narcissistic; they serve the whims of the people who built them. And cycles repeat, and crisis abounds.” About one third of our neighbors on Long Island right now cannot meet a basic survival budget. Despite increases in diversity, Long Island is still one of the top 10 most segregated regions in the country. Every day, hundreds of families forgo necessary medical treatment, because that copay or that bill is the difference between keeping the lights on or food on the table. “There is no justice in that,” Sanin states.

However, Sanin fully believes these inequities are surmountable. “We don’t have to accept how we were built as how we will be,” she said. “We need systems that protect and honor the wellbeing of each of us, so that this great region – America’s first suburb – can change course, and meet its great collective promise, one that is for all who live here and all who wish to live here. In this season, together, we can define and build Long Island’s future, lifting up social justice, equity and opportunity for all.”

Attorney General Letitia James promised her support in the fight against social injustices.

Following these remarks, Letitia James rose to speak on a variety of social justice issues she has been tackling since her election. She began by thanking everyone for gathering to acknowledge the state of social justice on Long Island. “Today’s meeting really is a testament to the fact that on Long Island the nature of poverty, and the needs of our community, are growing and changing.” James’ passion for community justice started in social work before also obtaining a law degree. Having knowledge and training in both fields has helped James exercise positive changes in her community. “I married the two; my love for addressing the needs of individuals who have been locked out of the sunshine of opportunity, those who have been historically ignored, those who have been dismissed – the others – and my love for the law, which is a tool for social justice and mobility. A tool and a sword that can combat a lot of these issues.”

Changing demographics and an evolving economy are fast tracking cracks in existing inequalities which cannot be ignored. Vulnerable groups include seniors, immigrants, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, and female-headed households with small children. James addressed some of the efforts her office is currently undergoing to protect affected groups.

Mental health services:
The state of mental health, particularly among youth, has been on the decline in recent years. Covid-19 further destabilized the already delicate systems of care that were in place. James noted the loss of psychiatric staff and available beds for those suffering. She recounted reports from her meeting in Buffalo, NY, where families had voluntarily surrendered their children in order to procure crucial, life-saving help. “What these parents did… they oftentimes left their child at the door of the hospital. That was the only way to get help; to surrender their child. And then social services could come in. By surrendering their child – not abandoning, but surrendering their child – they got immediate services.” James exclaimed this should not be the case.

Recently, governor Kathy Hocul announced a proposal to designate 1 billion dollars for mental health services. James feels this proposal would go a long way. “We must and can do better. So that 1 billion dollars proposed by the governor will put us on the path of correcting wrongs of the past, and getting a lot of those beds back online, but also supporting staff members in health care facilities, and proving psychiatric assistance to adolescents and children and seniors, which is so critically important.” Also in debate is the fact that many insurance companies are not willing to cover mental health services. The governor’s bill would require them to do so, which James was also in support of. “That’s a step forward, that’s progress, that’s hope.”

The drug crisis:
James condemned the state of drug abuse on Long Island, and reiterated her promise to hold contributors to the epidemic accountable. This included various settlements with opioid manufacturers of 4.5 billion dollars, an amount which will be redistributed into communities to further the war on opioids. James stated, “Those funds do not go to the office of the Attorney General, they go to the general fund to the state. I proposed that money should be used for education, prevention and outreach… We need to get those resources out to the community as soon as possible, because we are seeing an increase in overdoses, in suicides, and Fentanyl, which is poisoning countless young people.” James laments that drugs have replaced the economic engines of many communities, and urges that we need to shift back to more healing and healthy pursuits and solutions.

Plainview legislator supports social justice:
Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker of Plainview was also in attendance. He was pleased at the turnout. “It’s really moving to see so many people gathered to talk about and combat social justice,” he stated. The legislator is looking forward to continued motion in a positive direction. “There’s a real chance for concrete change here,” he said, “And I think the only place Long Island has to go is up.”

There are many daunting challenges ahead, but Letitia James reiterated that social justice organizations are not fighting on their own. “I am also here to let you all know that you are not alone in this struggle. My office values the work that this council does. We understand how important your agencies are, and the work that they’re doing, and we are here to help.”

–Additional information provided by the HWCLI website

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