Liberal organizations and politicians in New York City blasted Democratic Mayor Eric Adams for addressing the homelessness crisis with a new plan to forcibly hospitalize the untreated extremely mentally ill living in subways and on the streets ahead of the cold winter months.
Adams, at a press conference on Tuesday, announced the new directive aimed toward unsheltered individuals with “untreated psychotic disorders who pose a risk of harm to themselves even if they are not an imminent threat to the public.” The mayor framed the plan as a “moral obligation,” stressing for “too long, there’s been a gray area where policy, law and accountability has not been clear.”
Yet, councilmember Tiffany Cabán, who describes herself as a queer abolitionist, criticized Adams’ directive. It instructs the NYPD, FDNY and the Department of Housing to involuntarily transport homeless people to hospitals if severe mental illness leaves them unable to meet their basic needs to the extent that they are a danger to themselves – not only if they’re outwardly violent.
“This is deeply problematic,” Cabán tweeted. “I’ve visited trained, dedicated professional mental health first responders across the US. They consistently point out a couple of truths. Often the wrong responder & response is what creates a deadly situation, not the mental health crisis itself.”
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Housing Works, a New York City-based non-profit fighting AIDS and homelessness, ripped Adams’ plan.
“What happens when someone refuses hospitalization? This seems like it boils down to letting the NYPD hospitalize people by force, an escalation of @NYCMayor’s sweeps,” it tweeted.
“The Mayor’s attempt to police away homelessness and sweep individuals out of sight is a page from the failed Giuliani playbook,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “With no real plan for housing, services, or supports, the administration is choosing handcuffs and coercion.”
Lieberman contended that Adams’ proposal will “likely violate” federal and state constitutions’ strict limitations on the government’s ability to detain people experiencing mental illness.
Adams “is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and is not dedicating the resources necessary to address the mental health crises that affect our communities,” Lieberman said. “Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care.
“Unless we adequately invest in the long-term health and well-being of New Yorkers facing mental illness and our chronic lack of housing, the current mental health crisis will continue,” according to the New York Civil Liberties Union executive director. “The decades-old practice of sweeping deep-seated problems out of public view may play well for the politicians, but the problems will persist – for vulnerable people in desperate need of government services and for New Yorkers.”
Adams’ administration said the directive – focused on “action, care and compassion” – seeks to “dispel a persistent myth that the legal standard for involuntary intervention requires an ‘overt act’ demonstrating that the person is violent, suicidal, or engaging in outrageously dangerous behavior likely to result in imminent harm.”
The city is also developing a tele-consult line to provide police officers in the field considering whether to transport a homeless person with direct access to clinicians.
The New York Post reported that a source said that the NYPD was “blindsided” by the announcement that its officers would begin taking homeless people into custody for evaluations and possibly to be involuntarily committed.
Describing the rollout as a “hot mess,” the source told the Post NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, acting Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey and other top brass met with NYPD’s lawyers Wednesday to review the new directive.
“Like everything else, it gets dumped in our lap2, and we’re expected to solve the problem without any guidance,” another police source added. Sewell was notably absent from Adams’ press conference Tuesday.
Yet, the mayor attempted to illustrate the “psychiatric crisis” New Yorkers witness daily.
“The man standing on the street all day across from the building he was evicted from 25 years ago waiting to be let in. The shadow boxer on the street corner in midtown mumbling to himself as he jabs at an invisible adversary,” Adams said Tuesday. “The unresponsive man unable to get off the train at the end of the line without assistance from our mobile crisis team. These New Yorkers, and hundreds of others like them are in urgent need or treatment, yet often refuse it when offered.”
“The very nature of their illnesses keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support,” the mayor added. “Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking. They cycle in and out of hospitals and jails. But New Yorkers rightly expect our city to help them.”
In addition to the new directive, Adams also laid out an 11-point legislative agenda that will be among his top priorities in Albany during the upcoming legislative session. According to the mayor’s office, the agenda takes aim at gaps in New York State’s Mental Hygiene Law “that intensify the city’s challenges in meeting the needs of its most vulnerable residents with severe mental illness.”