New York City Mayor Eric Adams has emphasized that the city’s strategy to combat homelessness and mental health issues needs a bold overhaul.
But then measure proposal Sending officers, EMS workers and other city agents to take into custody individuals who appear to be “mentally ill” and “pose a danger to themselves” for psychiatric evaluations has raised some red flags among mental health professionals, urban planning specialists and others.
Kim Hooper, professor of clinical and medical social sciences at Columbia University, spoke with ABC News.I start herepodcast Wednesday about his thoughts on the plan.
Mental health facilities and organizations remain in the dark about their role after a patient is placed in their care, said Hooper, a medical anthropologist who worked 25 years as a research scientist at the New York City Office of Mental Health.
“What will happen next is very vague, and the receiving party has never been given any description,” Hooper told ABC News.
Adams proposed the move in November and cited cases where homeless people with mental illnesses were hospitalized but released shortly thereafter. Under his proposal, hospitals would have to keep patients in a psychiatric bed until they have stabilized and discharge them when a more realistic plan for future care can be worked out.
“Without this intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking,” Adams said at a news conference announcing the plan. “They are in and out of hospitals and prisons, but New Yorkers rightly expect our city to help them and us.”
NYPD officers, EMS workers and other city agents are trained in practices for dealing with homeless individuals and “ensuring compassionate care.”
The guidance states that “case law does not provide comprehensive guidance on mental health assessment removals based on brief interactions in the field.” However, the guidance says it provides examples that indicate if someone is unable to support their basic needs, including untreated serious physical injury, lack of awareness of surroundings and more.
Adams assured that the city would find a bed for everyone who needed one.
New York City has gone through many plans over the decades to address the homeless crisis, Hooper said, and said one of the most effective ways is to take a long-term approach. For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, homeless outreach teams would spend months building trust with homeless individuals, sometimes offering coffee to get them through the cold temperatures, and helping them to voluntarily commit to getting off the street.
“The goal is for people to discover that there is an alternative that preserves self-determination and dignity, and that gets them off the street without subjecting them to the shelter system,” Hooper said.
Although the officers and other agents will be trained in personnel handling tactics, Hooper said he worries about how those encounters will play out.
“They have a limited tool set, and the tool set they know best is the one that’s kind of overwhelming,” Huber said.
Hooper said there are still a lot of questions surrounding the plan, including who is advising the mayor on his plan, but he hopes they look back on successes from the past.
“I’m not a particularly original thinker on this point. That’s kind of 40 years of hard-earned experience telling us that over and over,” he said.