What city voices is All About
MISSION: To empower our peers to live full and active lives by providing information, resources and a means to participate in the community.
VISION: An organized community of our peers who have experienced mental health and/or substance use challenges, who can partner with like-minded groups to fight in improving our lives.
A Brief History of Our Project
The late Ken Steele, a man who had been homeless many times and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, founded the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project in 1994. This effort started off slowly as an independent project that he performed through Fountain House, the first clubhouse that was created for people with mental health diagnoses, which also provides housing and work for its members. Ken’s voter project eventually registered thousands of his peers to vote and educated them on the candidates in order to make an informed decision at the polls. His vision was to create a powerful voting bloc with people who have been diagnosed with mental illness just as women, African Americans and the LGBTQ+ communities have done before us.
In 1995, Ken wrote articles on the political decisions affecting people in the mental health system, promoted his voter project, collected personal recovery stories and poetry from his peers at their clinic, The Park Slope Center for Mental Health in Brooklyn, New York and put the stories and articles into their clinic’s newsletter. This was printed from a Xerox machine, stapled together and called The Park Slope Center News. The newsletter grew into a professionally printed newspaper, was renamed New York City Voices and circulated to thousands of New Yorkers.
Meanwhile, the voter project drew massive media attention, making the cover page of The New York Times twice, was covered by local and national TV programs, and other local and national periodicals.
In the year 2000, Ken received a phone call to his home from Hillary Clinton who was running for Senator of New York State at the time. She probably thought that he could influence thousands of registered voters, but his project was non-partisan and left the decision-making to the voters themselves.
Ken died in 2000 at the too-young age of 52 and the voter project seemed to die with him, but his newspaper did not.
Where We Are Today
Many years later, New York City Voices was renamed City Voices to reflect its reach beyond New York. We have been sponsored by the largest employer of people with mental health conditions in New York State, Baltic Street AEH, Inc., which provides housing, advocacy, and bridger services to hundreds of people receiving mental healthcare. A dedicated group of individuals came together to form our editorial board to guide our projects in a democratic fashion. You can meet members of the editorial board on this website.
City Voices now has dedicated content that informs the peer support workforce, composed of people who utilize their lived experience with mental health and/or substance use conditions in a professional manner to help their peers begin their own personal journeys of recovery.
We have developed a social media presence and are working toward building a social community of peers that can support one another through good times and bad.
After a person receives a diagnosis of mental illness, they can’t help but experience the stigma from our society, but perhaps more profoundly, stigmatize themselves, feeling “less than” and as if they don’t belong. This can lead to self-imposed isolation, apathy and disconnection from those who can provide support. City Voices is focused on people who find themselves in this situation by striving to reach our peers who are isolated in hospitals, prisons, jails, adult homes and other institutions with the good news that a vibrant, welcoming community awaits them.
Before COVID-19, in addition to publishing our newspaper, we ran a healthy cooking class at Fountain House as well as a support group for peer support workers called Peer Workers United, which we continue to do virtually to this day. We have an active Facebook group, a Twitter account and a website. We have plans to expand our reach and to start other helpful projects like one-to-one peer mentoring and writing workshops. Our main goal is to help our peers to rebuild their lives by providing wellness tools, inspirational stories, community connections and social supports so that they can become resilient enough to withstand life’s many challenges, including intense emotions, loneliness, loss, relapse, heartache and profound psychic pain.
Empower our peers with confidence to take on the world
Provide information of benefit to the peer workforce
Provide hope for recovery
Provide news you can use
Provide content for wellness
Encourage community participation
Enhance advocacy skills