The nation’s largest city is ordering authorities to confront and involuntarily hospitalize people with serious mental illness on the streets, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday.
The aggressive move to get people with mental illnesses off the streets comes in a year when homelessness rates in New York City have exacerbated shelters and public concern about crimes involving the homeless has grown . In his Tuesday speech, Adams described the city’s residents with severe, untreated mental illness sleeping on subway cars and park benches and said their living situation was “a crisis that we see all around us”.
Despite the overwhelming demand for low-income housing in New York City and the looming decades of crisis, nearly 2,600 apartments for people with mental illness or without housing remained vacant in the city as of this month. , reported the New York Times.
THE CONTEXT: According to researchers from the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy think tank, there is a huge overlap between homeless people and people with mental illness.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Experts say homeless people may find it much harder to access consistent treatment for mental illness because their daily lives can be so precarious. At the same time, mental illness can make it significantly more difficult for a homeless person to find stable employment, afford housing, and combat homelessness.
What did the mayor of NYC say?
The city needs to do more to help people with mental illness in public, especially those with untreated psychotic disorders, Adams said while outlining his 11-point mental health agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
Under the new measures, city officials are instructed to hospitalize people “who pose a risk of harm even if they do not pose an imminent threat to the public,” Adams said.
The mayor stressed that the policy directions will affect people with mental illness who pose no threat to anyone but themselves. So far, officials have operated by intervening and involuntarily hospitalizing some people who pose a risk to others, Adams said.
“A common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent, suicidal or at risk of imminent harm,” he said.
Many homeless and mentally ill people in New York urgently need treatment, “but often refuse it when offered,” Adams said.
The mayor also added that this group of people are “cycling in and out of hospitals and prisons” in the city.
How will the policy work?
The mayor’s directive would give outreach workers, city hospitals and first responders, including police, the discretion to involuntarily hospitalize anyone they deem dangerous to themselves or unable to care for. themselves.
As part of its initiative, the city is developing a phone line that would allow police to consult clinicians.
The mayor said he had started deploying teams of clinicians and police to patrol the busiest metro stations. The city has also implemented training for police officers and other first responders to help them provide “compassionate care” in situations that could result in the involuntary removal of someone showing signs of mental illness from public places. .
A spokesperson for New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the city’s plan builds on mutual efforts to increase capacity in psychiatric hospitals, as well as expanding outreach teams in subways.
Is it allowed?
New York law generally limits the ability of authorities to force someone into treatment unless they pose a danger to themselves.
But Adams said state law allows authorities to “intervene” when severe mental illness prevents someone from meeting their “basic human needs.”
In his statement, Adams said when people are unable to meet their basic needs, they are “a danger to themselves”.
Supporters say homelessness ‘cycle’ will continue
Homelessness advocates have long argued that helping people with mental illness who live on the streets requires a combination of housing and clinical services.
People who are part of the population Adams describes need mental health services, but the broader challenges they face won’t benefit from the new directions, said Sarah Gillespie, housing policy researcher at the Urban Institute. .
“If you take them to the hospital, I don’t know what services they would receive and if there is no permanent housing plan, they will be back on the streets and the cycle will continue,” Gillespie told USA TODAY. .
“Once someone is in a home, there are wraparound services,” she added, referring to behavioral health care that supports people at home, at school and in other settings. other settings, via several trained healthcare providers.
According to Gillespie, under the new guidelines, people with mental disorders who are homeless will continue to face a “cycle” of drug use, police interactions and imprisonment.
Experts: Housing helps support people with mental illness
A study conducted by Gillespie in Denver found that stable housing was directly linked to better outcomes for people with mental illness and addiction.
In the study, a randomized control group of people were offered housing and after three years, 77% of them remained in stable housing and avoided prison stays and trips to the emergency room, said Gillespie.
“When I read the policy and the announcement, it’s ‘these people can’t meet their basic needs and that’s why they need this involuntary treatment,'” Gillespie said. “And so my argument would be that if they had a place to live, there’s research evidence that tells us that they would meet their basic needs.”
Contributor: The Associated Press
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