As of September 2022, there were 60,252 homeless people in New York City. In this Verywell Mind article, Zishan Khan, MD, discusses a new policy that will allow police officers and emergency workers to involuntarily hospitalize homeless people who are mentally ill.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced last week an expansion in police and emergency workers’ ability to involuntarily remove homeless individuals presenting with mental health conditions and hospitalize them. Currently, New York State law allows for people to be forcibly removed from the street if there is a potential for them to cause “serious harm” personally or to others.
The critiques came swiftly from leading civil liberties workers. “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,” a response from Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, read.
“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,” said Lieberman.
Matt Kudish, CEO of the National Alliance of Mental Illness – New York City Metro (NAMI-NYC), echoed these concerns in a statement: “The Administration’s expanded use of Kendra’s Law or assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to people with SMI [severe mental illness] who ‘cannot meet their basic needs’ is beyond problematic.”
A highly risky approach to a complicated issue
On Thursday, December 8, NAMI-NYC joined organizations, including Communities United for Police Reform, Housing Works, and Correct Crisis Intervention Today (CCIT-NYC).
As of September 2022, there were 60,252 homeless people in New York City.
The policy sets forth training police officers to identify who needs mental health care. Hurford calls this quick guidance and power to make these life-changing decisions a “recipe for violating human rights” and a potential for traumatizing impacted individuals.
Dr. Zishan Khan, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, points to a myriad of issues that can arise. People may not willingly want to leave, especially if they have delusions about being taken or have witnessed other individuals being involuntarily committed.
Tension and even violence can occur—a combination further heightened by police officers carrying loaded guns. Since 2015, in one in five instances of an on-duty police officer shooting and killing someone, the victim had a mental illness, according to a database managed by The Washington Post.
Expanded access to housing is essential
There is the compounded issue of an overwhelmed hospital system and a tremendous lack of affordable housing in New York City. Affordable apartments (or what affordable means in New York City) are rare. The vacancy rate for apartments under $900 is 0.86%, according to the 2021 Housing and Vacancy survey. In contrast, the survey found 12.64% of apartments $2,300 and up to be vacant.
Mental health professionals across New York City have spoken out about the lack of psychiatric beds and staff to care for patients.
Experts agree: Creating more accessible (both in affordability and safety) housing and healthcare is a critical path forward. “Without addressing the underlying housing problem and the lack of access to appropriate healthcare, we are simply perpetuating the problem,” says Khan.
Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.