New York City, NY

Mayor Adams' plan to hospitalize Mentally Ill Homeless draws Criticism

Anne Spollen

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Currently, homelessness is at levels not seen since the Great DepressionPhoto bySteve KnutsononUnsplash

Mayor Eric Adams announced on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 that New York City will begin a campaign to remove homeless individuals from the streets if they are deemed a harm to themselves. Previously, the person had to be judged to be a threat to others. This new directive allows both outreach workers and police officers to intervene when someone appears to be so mentally ill that it prevents them from “meeting their basic human needs, causing them to be a danger to themselves,” according to the mayor. The police will be permitted to bring the person to a psychiatric facility even if the individual does not want or refuses care.

"A common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent, suicidal or presenting a risk of imminent harm," Mayor Adams said in his Tuesday address. “It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past,” Adams said.

There is an undeniable correspondence between homelessness and mental illness. The instability of their day-to-day existence makes it difficult to obtain mental health services, and their mental illness prevents them from working a stable job to obtain housing. The mayor's plan is intended to provide the initial step in assisting people with serious mental health challenges.

How It Will Work

Partnering with New York State, the city plants to train clinicians, first responders and outreach workers. This training will begin immediately. Additionally, the Adams administration has begun implementing subway clinical co-response teams consisting of trained mental health workers from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.When dealing with distressed individuals, police will have access to a tele-consult line that connects them to clinicians.

The New York City Police Commissioner, Keechant L. Sewell states, “The NYPD works day and night to improve the quality of life of all New Yorkers, especially our city’s most vulnerable populations. This is a longstanding and very complex issue. And we will continue to work closely with our many partners to ensure that everyone has access to the services they require. This deserves the full support and attention of our collective efforts.”

While the plan is supported by many, it has already drawn sharp criticism. Some question whether this actionable plan is practical or even legal. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union commented, “The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government’s ability to detain people experiencing mental illness — limits that the Mayor’s proposed expansion is likely to violate. Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care.”

Norman Seigel, the former head of The Civil Liberties Union,warned the plan will most likely face legal challenges."Just because someone smells, because they haven’t had a shower for weeks, because they’re mumbling . .. . doesn’t mean they’re a danger to themselves or others," the New York Times reported.

Other critics note that rounding up the mentally ill on the streets is only a temporary measure to a much larger societal problem. The mayor's plan does not mention long term care, rehabilitative services, or job training. They see the temporary hold of the homeless as another stop in the cycle of hospital-to- jail-to-street.

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