Flexible Funding Beyond the Crisis
Where We Go From Here
Myron Dean Quon, CEO, Pacific Asian Counseling Services
As CEO of Pacific Asian Counseling Services (PACS), Myron Dean Quon, Esq. ensures the mental health nonprofit delivers ongoing services while also responding to crises like the 2023 Monterey Park shooting or the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, government contracts and grant funding aren’t often structured to support this crisis response.
“In order to be more effective during a crisis, we need funders to allow much greater leeway and flexibility for how we spend our funds,” Myron says. This might look like flexible funding, general operating support, or designated emergency funding. Closer partnership with nonprofits would also help more funding dollars meet critical needs, Myron says.
In this conversation, Myron shares how PACS, as one the few community mental health nonprofit agencies in Los Angeles County, provides mental health and other supportive services to its Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. He delves into the unique challenges and opportunities, and highlights the need for more flexible funding and general operating support in everything from emergency response, to administrative tasks, to paying the power bill.
Joining him is Janelle Paule, Specialist, Marketing and Communications at NFF.
In this video:
- An introduction to PACS. (0:18)
- PACS’s approach to providing culturally sensitive mental health services to AAPI communities. (0:37)
- How PACS overcomes barriers to providing mental health services, both in California generally and in AAPI communities in particular. (2:43)
- Community leadership and education: PACS’s role in responding to the 2023 Monterey Park shooting. (4:25)
- Flexible funding and general operating support: two tools funders can use to support organizations like PACS to rapidly respond to crises. (5:36)
- How flex funds could make a positive difference in PACS’s approach to addressing homelessness. (7:32)
- Partnership, flexibility, and support for administrative work: how can funders better support organizations like PACS. (8:43)
JANELLE: Ready to go, Myron?
MYRON: I’m ready to go.
JANELLE: Three! Two! Okay, okay.
JANELLE: In a few sentences, could you introduce PACS and tell me a bit about the community that you serve?
MYRON: PACS is a community mental health agency. When it comes to living in L.A. County, it’s sometimes very difficult to access mental health services. And we try to help those who are both low-income and Asian Pacific Islander.
JANELLE: Can you tell me about what providing mental health services to the API community looks like in practice?
MYRON: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are a special population. When it comes to working with Asian-Americans, there’s a lot more trust building. Oftentimes when it comes to serving Asian Americans, you need to integrate religious beliefs, such as blessing ceremonies or going to temples if you’re going to serve Asian Americans. You need to not only speak a little bit of their native language, you also need to understand how they got here.
At PACS we actually have a very large Cambodian community, and in order to serve those who are Cambodian, pretty much every team member has to understand and speak a little bit of Khmer. And even more importantly, they have to remember about genocide. They have to understand that there’s intergenerational trauma that comes from both grandparents, parents, to folks living here in the United States right now.
Other barriers that they face: stigma. Asian-Americans, like all Americans, have difficulty thinking about mental health as a basic human need or a basic thing that can be addressed. There’s sort of this background message you get as an Asian immigrant: You don’t wanna be poor or have anything wrong with you; “If you do, we’re going to deport you.” So that’s not true, right?
But nevertheless, that’s sort of the message that Asian families and their sponsors get. So turns out, maybe 10, 20 or even five years after you’ve gotten to this country, you need some sort of help. You’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, no, I’m not going to seek assistance, because I don’t want to get deported. I don’t want my wife to get in trouble. My family, they spent all this time and energy and money to get me here, and now because I might have anxiety or depression, there’s no way anyone is going to hear about it. I’m going to suck it up. No one’s going to hear any complaints from me, because I’m here. I survived political uprisings at home. I’m here now, and even though I don’t feel well, I’m not going to talk about it.”
JANELLE: Thank you so much for walking us through – really painting a picture of what it means for PACS to meet community members where they are. All the examples that you listed, 100,000% resonate. And I think that’s so important in helping little by little to remove that stigma around receiving mental health services. In thinking about these barriers of providing mental health services to our API communities, how does PACS increase access to these services?
MYRON: Access to care, and quality access to care, is one of the things that California and L.A. County worries about all the time. That said, it’s very, very difficult for us to figure out access to care for Asian American community members. The Western model is self help, self advocacy. The Western model is: You need to at least do that first step and go ahead and ask for help.
And again, for Asian folks, you know, we’re interconnected. Asian folks are interdependent, and we kind of do things as a family unit. So when it comes to access to care for Asian immigrants, it’s not as simple as Mary Wong saying, “I would like help.” It may be Mary Wong’s sister, spouse, kids, grandparents, grandkids. It may actually be someone else who’s trying to help move along the access to care and will in fact be highly involved in both the access, perhaps the treatment and the support, and all of the other parts of mental health services. And that is so antithetical to the way Western mental health is.
JANELLE: You talked about PACS’s on the ground efforts working with API communities, and thinking about the Monterey Park shooting earlier this year in January, can you talk about the effect that that had on the community and the ways that PACS responded?
MYRON: Immediately after the mass shooting in Monterey Park, PACS and many other Asian American groups had to step up immediately to go ahead and serve multiple purposes. One of the purposes that we had to serve was just being a community leader. We were able to highlight and elevate the many, many challenges that are out there when it comes to our Asian elders and mental health.
The background includes the lack of transportation. The barriers include an unawareness of what mental health actually is and how it can be useful. With the spike in anti-Asian hate, many of our Asian elders were especially linguistically isolated from other people who spoke their language and just isolated in general by staying in their apartment much more often than they should otherwise.
JANELLE: There have been a number of different crises over the years, which include the mass shootings like we just spoke about, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Asian hate crimes. But funds are often mandated for ongoing programs, not crises. How do funding patterns need to shift so organizations like yours could have the impact you envision?
MYRON: In order to be more effective during a crisis, we need funders to allow much greater leeway and flexibility for how we spend our funds. When it comes to our mental health services, we already have our day-to-day clients that we have and we’re not able to all of a sudden pivot and change and start serving folks who are in crisis.
There are many ways of addressing this inability. One of them would be having our funders go ahead and recognize that, say, up to 10% of your annual budget can be used for crisis response. And if you don’t do that, that’s awesome.
Another solution would be having more general operating support. General operating support is funding that we sometimes get from either individuals or even larger donors, where they say, “You know what? We know that you do really great work, but we recognize sometimes the county doesn’t even pay you enough to keep your lights on. Why don’t we go ahead and just give you a little extra money so you can keep your lights on? Or – I can even do better – why don’t we give you extra money, and you hold it on the side, and whenever there’s an emergency, like the shooting in Monterey Park, you can actually drop everything for a few days, go out there during this crisis and help out immediately and not have to think about, ‘Oh, no, this is a whole week or we haven’t done our basic job – that’s a whole week where we don’t get our basic income.’”
And then that means we might be short this month by, you know, one week’s worth of work. And we can’t do that because as a nonprofit, we tend to just go day to day, week to week to do the great work. But we actually don’t have any savings.
JANELLE: As a mental health services provider in Los Angeles, you’re on the frontlines of California’s homelessness crisis. Can you tell us about how PACS approaches that work and what you would do with more flexible funding and more general operating support?
MYRON: The homelessness crisis right now is huge, and if somehow PACS and our sister groups could get a significant jump in funding, we could actually hire a higher number of team members to actually go out and serve homeless folks.
We could do something called flex funds. Many of the people that we work with are folks who have an addiction issue, and mental health issues, maybe aren’t close to their family members or don’t actually have any family members nearby. And one of the ways that we try to help stabilize them is getting them into either group homes or even a small studio where they can go ahead and be a little bit more stable. So if we were to get a significant shot of additional funding, that would allow us to go year to year, and not only can we provide the basic mental health services to our clients, we can also help stabilize them with housing.
JANELLE: Myron, how can funders better support organizations like PACS?
MYRON: Funders do a lot already every day to help PACS do good work. I think what would be fascinating – if funders were to have more two-way conversations with their grantees and talk about outside-the-box ideas of how to make the world a better place. It seems to me that funders can learn so much more about how best to help community members by working with PACS as a true partnership whereby PACS has all the ideas and funders allow PACS to take this limited resource of dollars and implement it as best as we can, regardless of bureaucracies or other administrative issues.
One of the things that funders could possibly do is literally fund all of our administrative paperwork. So therefore all of our clinicians are just doing their basic bread and butter – they’re seeing clients day to day, they’re working with their clients, they’re doing all the kinds of therapy and interventions to make the world a better place – and somehow there’s additional funding to have other folks just do all the administrative paperwork. That would make PACS a very desirable nonprofit to work at and definitely increase the sustainability and grow the agency in ways that really are unimaginable and with endless potential.