In a scripted speech on a fraught issue, Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday said the city’s police, mental health and other responders will step up measures to ensure people experiencing potentially dangerous episodes of serious mental illness get psychiatric evaluations and care.
“New Yorkers rightly expect our city to help them, and help them we will,” Adams said at City Hall, before making an appearance with leaders of the effort to take questions.
Focusing on the highly visible phenomenon of people behaving erratically — and sometimes violently — on city streets and subways, Adams said that months of discussions with his team and outside experts had yielded a new approach, based on a forceful interpretation of state mental health law.
Specifically, said the mayor, his administration will instruct NYPD officers and mental health teams that people should be removed to a hospital for evaluation when showing signs that they cannot care for their own “basic needs” as a result of apparent mental illness.
“My administration is determined to do more to assist people with mental illness, especially those with severe psychotic disorders who pose a risk of harm to themselves even if they don’t threaten others,” Adams said. “For too long there has been a gray area, where policy, law and accountability have not been clear. This culture of uncertainty has led to undue suffering and deep frustration.”
Adams speaking at City Hall on Tuesday. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY.
Calling action a “moral obligation,” he also outlined an 11-point state legislative agenda that includes a measure that failed to advance last session, which would enable hospitals to hold individuals involuntarily if a patient had not demonstrated preparedness to adhere to outpatient treatment, potentially including medication, after release.“It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past,” he said.
An Unconstitutional Move?
The proposal prompted strong reactions from civil liberties and mental health client advocates.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, hinted that executing the mayor’s plan could prompt a lawsuit over forced hospitalization.
“The mayor 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 in a statement shortly after the announcement. “The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government’s ability to detain people experiencing mental illness — limits that the Mayor’s proposed expansion is likely to violate.”
Adams’ speech followed a
Gracie Mansion summit last month of mental health experts convened by former NYCLU director Norman Siegel, an informal advisor to Adams, as well as shocking acts of random violence allegedly perpetrated by people with serious mental illness, including the killings this year of Michelle Go, Christina Yuna Lee, Daniel Enriquez and Allison Russo-Elling.
The mayor acknowledged that success would largely depend on passage in Albany of bills to give authorities greater power and flexibility when interacting with people with mental illness.
In October, Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an initiative to address safety on the subways that included opening two 25-bed
inpatient centers for treatment through the state’s Office of Mental Health. On Tuesday, Adams said those 50 beds are now ready for patients.
Meanwhile, as Gotham Gazette reported, hundreds of hospital psychiatric beds converted during the pandemic to COVID care
The city’s public hospitals will play a role in providing services, said NYC Health + Hospitals system CEO Mitchell Katz, standing at Adams’ side. He previewed what the removal process would look like, following the process laid out in state mental health law.
“Once they are removed and brought to a hospital they will get the full assessment,” Katz said.
Voluntary or Involuntary
Adams did not have specifics to offer on what city government could offer people after that evaluation and hospitalization. Asked by THE CITY about how he would ensure enough supportive housing suitable to house and care for people with serious mental illness and how he would fill empty psychiatry jobs during a reported labor shortage, Adams responded: “We’re going to staff up to the needs.”
He added: “We need beds. We’re also going to use the technology available to us. It’s a powerful tool to use, Facetime… We’re going to lean into telemedicine.”
Asked about the fatal stabbing of two children allegedly by their mother in a homeless shelter in The Bronx last week, Adams encouraged New Yorkers to use the 311 system — not 911 or
988 — when they detect a neighbor unable to meet their basic needs. “We want to do a hand-off to continuous care,” he said.
Cal Hedigan, the CEO of Community Access, Inc., a supportive housing and advocacy organization, told THE CITY that “involuntary entry and coercion are not the answer” to helping people in need.
“We need more of the low-threshold environments where people can, if needed, receive voluntary services and build relationships with providers,” Hedigan said.
“There’s a huge crisis in staffing in the human services workforce because we have been chronically underfunded, and it makes it harder for everyone,” she said. “This work is really about building relationships with people and you need a stable workforce.”
Seeking Another Law Change
One key player in the state legislature, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn), did not run for reelection following redistricting and will be
joining Adams’ administration in January in a role as yet undefined. Savino tried and failed in the last legislative session to advance a bill she sponsored allowing extended hospitalizations for people with chronic severe mental illness.
Current New York state law requires release after 72 hours of hospitalization if a patient has psychiatrically stabilized under medical care, regardless of whether they are prepared to comply with medication and other treatment prescribed.
In an interview with THE CITY, Savino also stressed the importance of another change in law that Adams says he’ll seek, which would make explicit that care is required for someone whose mental illness prevents them from following treatment on their own.
Savino speaks at the Capitol Building in Albany in 2019. | New York State Senate.
“It can simply be your inability to manage your mental health because you won’t take your medication or because you refuse treatment that will help to manage your mental health,” said Savino. “Until you fix the law, you can’t get help to people that this population needs.”
Clarissa Crader is a retired transit cop who patrolled the system at the same time Adams did as an officer decades ago, when, she recalled, MTA rules allowed police to eject disorderly customers.
Her 41-year-old son, Justin Campbell, is now living in a safe haven shelter in Crown Heights and receiving treatment from a city mobile case management team, following a two-decade
history of violent episodes fueled by his psychosis, as recently chronicled by THE CITY.
“I didn’t hear any long-term solutions,” Crader said in reaction to Adams’ speech. “Nothing was mentioned about how chronic or multiple hospitalizations for psychiatric crises will be handled.”
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Finally, a mayor with the guts to stand up to the special interests of the Homeless Industrial Complex and admit that the approach over the last 50 years has been a failure and that there must be a change! The right to fail is a failure for all of us. People need real help and pretending that the mentally ill know what is best for them is disingenuous. This is good for all the residents of the city, especially those that are in real need.
You do realize that rule, which has not passed any legislature, would give the police the right to transport you to a hospital for simply acting in a way that the arresting officers define as weird?
This is not a helpful proposal by Adams.
Now if the police had the power to offer the homeless person clean clothes, a lawyer, social worker, and a single hotel room for 6 months rent free this might be kind interesting.
there are lots of ‘grey areas’ where cops make subjective decisions. this is true in other professions as well.
Bravo Mayor Adams! Aggressive action to make our streets, neighborhoods, and transit system safer.
I don’t see anything new here, The NYPD has always taken Emotionally Disturbed Persons to the hospital for evaluation. Adams has no control over hospitals.
Funding and staffing issues will pose big problems, obviously. But a healthy city can’t have laws and policies that allow homeless encampments, mentally ill people and/or addicts living on street or subway, and the crimes that are committed by too many of that population. The right to exercise civil liberties has a corresponding duty to be a responsible citizen. Just because someone is a legal adult does not mean that person has the right to live in an impaired condition on public property.
I hope that the Mayor’s announcement heralds actions that will help both the mentally ill et al. and the general citizenry.
Adams is well intentioned but this initiative will not accomplish anything.
The police will be too scared to detain anyone with mental illness because this could lead to disciplinary action due to violation of the civil rights of these mentally ill people.
The ACLU is already ranting about the civil rights of the mentally ill.
Nothing will change.
How Adams is going to make hospitals keep mentally ill for longer than 3 days?
What happened to the interdiciplinary team approach that the Mayor previously touted where police along with mental health professionals would try to engage homeless individuals? As a former social worker turned businessman (and a lifelong New Yorker), there needs to be a different approach in the subways compared to people on the streets. Homeless individuals taking up lots of space on the subways impinge on the freedom of subway riders to be able to sit and ride in peace and safety. They should be removed and provided with humane alternatives (ideally via an interdisciplinary team approach).
There are also formerly homeless adults who have gotten back on their feet and perhaps these individuals could be helpful in engaging and helping both the subway and street homeless persons.
I believe this is a sad but necessary step. I’m all in favor of individual rights but I believe there are some people who are incapable of taking care of themselves in our increasingly complex society. I was a supporter of the ACLU until they came out last year and said that people with schizophrenia should he given a choice about taking medications. That was the last draw for me. There are people on the street who cannot actively choose what is the best next step for themselves. I don’t worry that we will start locking people up who “just act weird” as one commenter said.
I have worked in the field. Seriously mentally ill people often do not want to take medications and then their symptoms get worse. It is a real dilemma because, of course they have rights, but their illnesses often produce erratic and disturbing symptoms
I am thinking that their cognitive impairment, which sometimes is an outcome of a string of bad choices, sets limits on their license to exercise their right to do what they want. A mentally ill or addicted person who decides to set up a residence on the sidewalk next to my front door, and possibly also threaten residents, impinges on my and others’ rights to peaceful enjoyment of our homes etc.
I am no longer donating to the ACLU.
Don’t know if EVERYONE hurting and killing people in the city are ALL mentally unstable as I’m not a therapist BUT I’m glad he’s finally getting some sense to do the right thing to protect New Yorkers.
I mean, how many more people need to be pushed in front of trains or hit about the body for now apparent reason. And what about the constant thefts happening? Will he address that as well?
Sadly this move was exactly what brought Los Angeles to the brink. The mayor tried to do this and the ACLU swooped in – the city ended up settling and PAYING the ACLU & now they can’t touch anyone – even if they are clearly drugged out of their minds and a danger – unless a crime is involved or if the person agrees to be helped. It has made LA a cesspool and what is on the streets is like a zombie apocalypse. But LA is a one party town in a one party state so there isn’t a lot of push back or concern of losing voters.
What’s really sad is that people who claim to be “homeless advocates” are busy spouting off about the homeless and mentally ill persons’ rights to live on the streets, ranting and raving in their urine and feces soaked clothing while being hungry and cold and a danger to themselves and others . I’m sick of these “homeless advocates’” sanctimonious pontificating that accomplishes nothing and helps absolutely no one while these fragile New Yorkers suffer on the streets. Any “advocate”who thinks that these folks have the “right” to harm themselves and others is just a parasite to the tax payers who depend onNYC’s homeless services to help this population and a dinosaur in their views. How many more people have to be maimed, injured and killed by a population that clearly needs all the help they can get? It ain’t working y’all. Your approach has been a disaster to everyone and especially for those you claim to care about.
I voted for and supported DeBlasio’s ThriveNYC and all that did was waste billions of our tax dollars while Madame DeBlasio had a vanity project to “keep her busy.” Where is the 60 Minutes investigation and that gigantic waste of our tax dollars?
Here is hoping that this initiative actually helps these clearly unwell people while keeping those of us trying to get around the city to jobs or getting groceries or picking up children from school can be safe from being stabbed, assaulted, bashed on the head with a brick or shoved on to the subway tracks.
Just as he did with homeless encampments, Adams wants to sweep a social problem under the proverbial rug without offering any meaningful, long-term solutions, such as, in this case, a lot more supportive housing.
Other than NYPD overtime, is there any budget allocated for this “plan”?
Mayor Adams may have not offered any details, but it seems fundamental to reporting this story to understand minimally the cost per patient/night in a hospital psych ward, how many beds currently are available, and how this will be paid for (by taxpayers)?
Once the patients become out-patient, where will they be warehoused, how many beds are available for that, and how will this be paid for (by taxpayers)?
We need supportive housing, not insane asylums or diverted hospital beds. Why wasn’t the Randalls Island tent city, built at great expense for refugees but never used, instead repurposed for this? So much pointless grandstanding and spending in this town.
Whoa I just read that link that leads to that article in THE CITY (which publication I was unfamiliar with ) about the Justin Campbell and Clarissa Crader saga… an exhausting read; Ms. Crader herself must be extremely exhausted & depressed if not utterly worn out from the years she’s already spent trying to keep her son afloat in the endless maelstrom of her son’s paranoid schizophrenic illness, especially when you add in all of Justin’s violent history of lashing out, attacking bystanders and robbery:
“…He’s collecting SSI, and gambling a lot, by his own admission. He demands $120 or $140, just about daily, from his mom to keep the games going. While he’s not paying any rent, he fantasizes about financing an escape with the money he’s saving: “Go buy a timeshare somewhere sometime. Hopefully not in a hurricane.”
But meanwhile, Justin is living on the edge of the law — and each time, his mother the retired police officer is there to catch him from falling. Most recently, he stole a sneaker from a local shop display, in hopes of selling it. She went to return the goods personally.
I assured her she was being a good mother.
“Most times,” Clarissa replied, “I just feel like an idiot.” “
Bravo, Mayor. Long overdue and desperately needed to clean up the mess wrought by Mr and Mrs DeBlasio.
it was argued that “the mayor is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers…” But do not ordinary citizens obeying the law also have the right not to be assaulted in the subway and in the streets by mentally disturbed individuals? ?
This is prima facie unconstitutional, and the first person who sues will not only win, but will make this entire effort moot. And good for that; it is a very bad solution to an admittedly difficult problem. But all it shows is that the “powers that be” don’t actually want to address the CAUSES of the problem in any real, tangible way. Instead, they would rather do anything – including something both illegal and immoral (involuntary committal) – other than bring the political will to bear on the causes of the issue.