By Aditi Praveen Kariyanahalli
Experts on homelessness and mental illness outlined new city plans to combat both issues at a Community Board 7 Health & Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday night. Much of the discussion focused on the city’s Subway Safety Plan, released last month, which describes efforts to aid “those experiencing homelessness and those with severe mental illness” in city subways.
At the heart of the plan, the city is “really trying to connect people to these different services that are available,” said Dr. Michael McRae, executive deputy commissioner for mental hygiene at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, “and making sure that you know there’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of solution here.”
Among the services McRae described to board members are community outreach teams that deploy clinicians to city subway stations, where they can immediately respond to mental health emergencies. In severe cases, said McRae, the clinicians can arrange a transfer to a hospital or clinic.
After McRae had left the meeting, CB7 board member Sheldon Fine said “I haven’t seen too much,” of the clinician teams McRae described. Turning to other board members, Fine asked: “Those who ride the subway, have you seen teams? Has anyone seen the teams? On the 1? The 2? The 3? The D? The C?” After receiving mostly head shakes from the rest of the board, Fine said. “I don’t know anyone who’s seen it.”
Other board members agreed with Fine, noting that while they have seen police officers and other law enforcement agents in subway stations, none had seen the clinician-led teams described by McRae.
Later in the meeting, Jennie Drossman, associate vice president of Street Solutions at Goddard Riverside Community Center, described the efforts of the Manhattan Outreach Coalition (MOC) to provide housing, medical care and mental health support to homeless people.
“We’re starting where the clients are comfortable,” said Drossman, describing how MOC would approach homeless New Yorkers and offer them housing, support, and other basic necessities. “The client is really the expert in their own life. Many have experienced trauma and bad experiences with institutions or the system in general. So we really look at it as one step at a time,” said Drossman. “And you have a lot of clients that… are [then] able to move on to transitional or permanent [housing] from there.”
At the end of the meeting, the board members discussed a possible resolution to call on the mayor and City Council to increase funding for community-based homeless outreach programs. Such aid is needed for the over “300,000 New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses,” said Fine. But other committee members said they wanted to wait for a report expected from McRae’s department, which will give statistical detail on the level of serious mental illness in New York and allow for a more accurate prediction of budget needs. No timeline was given for that report, but the board decided to take no action on a resolution.