Apr 27, 2021

MAMH Board member Susan Tracy is President of The Strategy Group, former state legislator, and a long-time advocate for people who are homeless. Our interview with Susan describes the critical intersection between homelessness and mental health.

Susan Tracy is President of The Strategy Group, a consulting agency helping clients with strategic planning, communications and community relations. Susan represented residents of the 19th Suffolk District in the Massachusetts legislature for four years. Prior to serving in the Legislature, Susan worked for the City of Boston, where she was Director of the City's Emergency Shelter Commission, coordinating Boston's services for the homeless.

How did you become involved with MAMH?

I learned about MAMH when I represented Brighton in the state legislature. Unlike some MAMH Board Members I don’t have a personal connection to mental health issues, but when you work in public life you meet a lot of people who have these experiences. Often people are adrift, and they don’t know how to get help for themselves or family members. What I always loved about MAMH and continue to love about MAMH is that we are so versed in policy and the depths of the issues, and we're respected at a government and advocacy level, but we also help individual people and families.

You previously served as Executive Director of Boston's Emergency Shelter Commission and are a fierce advocate for people who are homeless. As we know, homeless and other environmental factors often affect mental health and the effectiveness of treatment. How does MAMH’s work help with this?

There’s an intersection between mental health and homelessness, and the ability of organizations like the Pine Street Inn to provide housing and support to people is so impactful. While MAMH doesn’t provide direct services to individuals, we provide the voice and the advocacy for resources and policies to support that work. Far too many people are on the streets who would not need to be there if we just had the housing and support to help them stay in their own homes. The direct services – that is, the provision of housing and wraparound services—combined with the advocacy work of MAMH are critical puzzle pieces that fit together to really make a difference.

Public policy has a direct effect on individual’s lives. What is a critical area of focus for today’s mental health advocacy?

There are some critical policy areas that we need to find solutions for. Too many people in a mental health crisis have lost their lives because we have not set up a structure for our criminal justice system to understand how to work in those situations. I think that is very important for us to focus on. With the pandemic, there are going to be repercussions from this time for young people who have been at home for a year separated from their schools, friends, and communities. In addition, there are many other areas we need to focus on, such as access to treatment, and the horrible situations that can occur in emergency rooms when we do not have enough crisis services and inpatient beds to quickly evaluate and treat people in the right setting.

What do we need to be effective advocates?

In advocacy you need to do three things: First, you need to identify the problems. Second, you need to have people who make policy decisions believe and understand those problems. Some people don't understand, and it is not because they don't care; it is because it’s not their area of expertise. Our job as advocates is to highlight the problem, bring that problem to leaders and have them understand it. Finally, you need to provide solutions to address the problems because you cannot fix a problem if people don't know that it is broken and how to fix it. Those three things must align to be successful.

picture of Susan Tracy, MAMH board member

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