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HomeU.S54 Severely Mentally Ill People Moved Off N.Y.C. Streets, Adams Says

54 Severely Mentally Ill People Moved Off N.Y.C. Streets, Adams Says

Mayor Eric Adams said on Wednesday that New York City had made progress in helping homeless people who are severely mentally ill get connected to treatment and housing.

The mayor has made addressing mental illness a priority after a series of random, high-profile attacks involving homeless people. On Wednesday, a year after announcing a plan to involuntarily hospitalize mentally ill homeless people who appeared to be unable to care for themselves, he said at a news conference that the city was seeing results.

“We made a commitment to New Yorkers that the days of ignoring the mental health crisis playing out on our streets were over,” Mr. Adams said. “We will not abandon New Yorkers in need.”

The mayor said the city had, on average, involuntarily hospitalized 137 homeless mentally ill people a week since May. It was unclear how many of the people were admitted to hospitals or discharged soon after.

The mayor also said the administration had “zeroed in” on 100 homeless people who were severely mentally ill and resistant to treatment. Since last November, 54 of them were placed in housing or hospitals, city officials said — a significant increase from the year before, when just 22 of these people were moved off the streets.

Brian Stettin, the mayor’s senior adviser for severe mental illness, said the administration was “doing it all, using every tool at our disposal.”

The announcement came a week after a New York Times investigation identified widespread failures across the city’s mental health care system — homeless shelters, hospitals, specialized treatment teams and other organizations — to care for some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. The breakdowns preceded 94 acts of violence over the past decade, The Times found.

The examination revealed that the city had not placed mentally ill people in dedicated mental health shelters where they could get psychiatric support and services. Hospitals frequently discharged patients in crisis before they were stable. And workers on specialized treatment teams were often overburdened, undertrained and underpaid, and they sometimes failed to intervene before homeless people unraveled in violent ways.

Many of the lapses traced to poor communication among the various agencies responsible for treating mentally ill homeless people.

The breakdowns were not new. Generations of mayors and state officials have struggled since the 1970s to adequately address the mental health crisis, The Times found.

Mr. Adams said his administration has been tackling the problem head on. Officials were working with the city’s public hospital system to help coordinate care, and they said they expected to bring back psychiatric beds that had been repurposed during the pandemic. They also urged private hospitals, which have significantly cut psychiatric beds in recent years, to step up treatment of homeless mentally ill people.

Since 2019, the city has tracked some of the hardest to treat homeless mentally ill people on an informal roster it calls the “top 50” list. The Adams administration has convened a task force of agencies and nonprofit groups that meets weekly to help the people on the list.

But of the mentally ill homeless people whose cases were examined by The Times, just one — Jordan Neely — was on the city’s list. Earlier this year, Mr. Neely was acting erratically on the subway when he was choked to death by another rider who said he feared for his safety.

“Our goal is to catch the Jordans at the beginning of the process, give him or her wraparound services they deserve, give them community, give them care, give them support and whatever medical intervention we can do,” Mr. Adams said. He added that this intensive coordination had been successful for a small group of people and needed to be expanded.

Mr. Adams also cited success in outreach workers persuading thousands of people to leave the streets and subways and go into shelters. The city has spent more than $1 billion in recent years to create specialized mental health shelters where people can meet with psychiatrists and get support. But The Times found that many newcomers were never placed in those shelters because workers could not access their psychiatric history, and the homeless people did not disclose it.

On Wednesday, Molly Wasow Park, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services, said people have a right not to disclose their psychiatric history, adding “we are not a medical system.”

City officials said they had moved more than 1,000 people living in shelters into permanent housing as of this summer.

But given the challenges, Mr. Adams said fixing the mental health care system required help from state lawmakers.

He has been pushing legislators to broaden New York’s legal standard for when someone with mental illness can be hospitalized against their will, saying the current law has been interpreted too narrowly.

The administration is also backing a bill that would require hospitals to coordinate with outpatient providers and screen psychiatric patients to determine if they are eligible to receive court-ordered outpatient treatment. The proposal, introduced this year, has not moved out of the Assembly and does not have a sponsor in the State Senate.

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