NYC resorts to involuntary hospitalizations of mentally ill homeless people to alleviate crime
New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams weighs in on New York City’s growing crime problem and the current efforts that the city is implementing to attempt to lessen the crisis.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a plan to combat homelessness and surging subway crime that includes possible involuntary commitment of homeless individuals, which several experts told Fox News Digital is a cause for concern and could exacerbate problems in other key areas.
“While I understand where the mayor is coming from, the problem that I see it’s like slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound that needs surgery,” Dr. Tania Glenn, president of Tania Glenn and Associates in Central Texas that specializes in mental health treatment for first responders, told Fox News Digital.
“And so to me, I think it’s pretty extreme. I understand that people need help, but the point is that the resources have to be built and in place for people to get help versus these involuntary commitments, which also seems like a civil rights issue.”
Adams announced in late November a “new pathway forward” to address homelessness on New York City’s streets and subways that includes a directive expanding and clarifying the ability for first responders to involuntarily commit homeless individuals with clear mental health issues.
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New York City Mayor Eric Adams, left, and a homeless individual, right, sleeping on New York City subway
“In accordance with state law and court precedent, Mayor Adams’ directive clarifies that outreach workers, city-operated hospitals, and first responders have the legal authority to provide care to New Yorkers when severe mental illness prevents them from meeting their own basic human needs to the extent that they are a danger to themselves,” the mayor’s announcement states.
“The directive — issued by Mayor Adams today — 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 move comes as the nation’s largest city faces both a homeless crisis, where at least 60,000 New Yorkers are living on the streets or in shelters, and surging crime in several categories, especially on subways where underground crimes are up over 40% in 2021 and subway murders are at the highest annual levels in 25 years.
While many have lauded the mayor’s willingness to take boldand controversial action to address the tens of thousands of homeless individuals on New York City streets, the move has faced strong pushback from several mental health advocates in the area who argue the idea of police officers and other first responders engaging with the mentally ill in that capacity raises several additional problems such as widening the distrust between the homeless and the police.
“Who’s going to enforce this?” Cato Institute senior fellow Mike D. Tanner, who researches a variety of domestic policies with an emphasis on poverty and social welfare policy, asked Fox News Digital. “If it’s going to be the police, that has a whole series of problems with it. The homeless population is very distrustful of the police and that’s not the people who are going to get them to respond positively. It really has the potential for escalation.”
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Glenn said that her concern is that the new directive will “create a divide or a division between the public safety people who are basically committing these people or kind of rounding them up to have them committed” and that the mentally ill already harbor “mistrust and fear and there’s already strained relationships between our first responders and this population in most cities and so my concern is that that is really going to drive the wedge and create even more fear of the people who are really trying to help them.”
Many have also warned that New York City does not have the emergency room beds, hotel rooms or mental health facilities available to adequately house homeless individuals if they are involuntarily committed in large numbers. New York City Fire Department Lieutenant Paramedic Anthony Almojera wrote an article in the New York Times that said “dispatching medical responders to wrangle mentally disturbed people living on the street and ferry them to overcrowded psychiatric facilities is not the answer.”
“I’m not opposed to taking mentally ill people in distress to the hospital — our ambulances do this all the time,” Almojera wrote. “But I know it’s unlikely to solve their problems. Hospitals are overwhelmed, so they sometimes try to shuffle patients to other facilities. Gov. Kathy Hochul has promised 50 extra beds for New York City’s psychiatric patients. We need far more to manage those patients who would qualify for involuntary hospitalization under Mr. Adams’s vague criteria.”
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A homeless sits at Times Square on Nov. 30, 2022 in New York City. New York City Mayor Eric Adams rolled out a plan to allow mentally ill homeless people to be hospitalized against their will.
Amy Swearer, a legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at Heritage Foundation, also told Fox News Digital that New York City’s healthcare system would have trouble with the additional burden of increasing the number of involuntary commitments on city streets and subways.
“It’s not as if they have thousands of empty beds that you need to commit thousands of people,” Swearer said. “It’s not some sort of long term solution for homelessness or crime generally.”
Glenn agreed that New York City will struggle to find empty beds in a system where emergency rooms are “already overrun and maxed out” to go along with nursing shortages.
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‘They’re going to have to go somewhere and that somewhere is a place that’s already saturated,” Glenn said, adding that efficient investment in a “solid mental health system” is “really the only way to combat this.”
Swearer explained that often times, involuntary treatment can create a spiral situation when people are temporarily stabilized and then released back onto the streets, where they are untreated until they reach a crisis point again and are not given the long term attention and treatment they need.
“You see this sort of cycle of stabilization, and then they’re spit back out until they spiral down into crisis, and then they’re stabilized and spit back out. Once you reach that crisis, it’s actually much harder and a longer intensive process every time to stabilize you and get you back to a place where you’re no longer dangerous, or you are willfully complying with your treatment.”
“So that’s sort of our baseline problem is the mental health infrastructure in this country generally across the board on the state level lacks the capacity to deal with the majority of sort of in-between cases that aren’t already in crisis.“
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Eric Adams, mayor of New York, during a New York State Financial Control Board meeting in New York, US, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. The New York State Financial Control Board discussed the Fiscal Year 2023 adopted budget and financial plan.
(Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Adams has defended his position on multiple occasions, including this week when he said that his plan will not be “police driven.”
“This is a small, specific group of people who can’t take care of their basic needs and are dealing with mental health illnesses to the extent that they are a danger to themselves and others,” Adams added.
“I didn’t get elected to do an easy task,” Adams said this week. “I got elected to look at these systemic problems that have been in city for generations.”
FOX 5 New York reported that despite promising there would be a psychiatric bed for every person in need, the numbers do not match the pledge and that Adams said that there is no plan right now to report the number of people being taken to a hospital for evaluation.
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“I know Mayor Adams said they’ll provide beds for everyone, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” Tanner told Fox News Digital.
On Thursday, Adams’s plan was hit with the first legal challenge when a court motion filed in an existing lawsuit by a civil rights firm argued that the plan violates constitutional rights protecting from improper search and seizure.
Fox News Digital reached out to Mayor Adams’s office for comment and did not receive a response at the time of publication.
Fox News’ Julia Musto contributed to this report