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Mayor Adams’ new plan to force treatment upon homeless mentally ill draws criticism and praise
The New York Daily News - 11/29/2022
Mayor Adams’ announcement that the city will more aggressively use a state law dictating when the mentally ill can involuntarily be placed into care immediately prompted a backlash on Tuesday — as well as praise from some unlikely quarters.
Adams, who spoke midday from the City Hall rotunda, said he had issued a directive to city agencies clarifying how the city would apply state law moving forward, a clarification that’s expected to result in more homeless people receiving treatment against their will.
“Homeless people are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators, but Mayor Adams has continually scapegoated homeless people and others with mental illness as violent,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless.
“His focus on involuntary transport and treatment ignores that many people cannot access psychiatric care even on a voluntary basis,” Simone said.
She suggested that a better solution would involve “expanding access to voluntary inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care, offering individual hotel rooms to all unsheltered people and cutting through red tape that has left far too many permanent supportive housing units sitting vacant.”
In his announcement, Adams seemed uncertain about the total number of psychiatric beds that may or may not be available to accommodate those who are involuntarily removed from the streets. But he did note that 50 beds are now free under a policy enacted by Gov. Hochul.
While the Coalition slammed Adams for his latest move regarding mental health, the Legal Aid Society and several other groups that have also been critical of him in the past praised his plan.
In a joint statement, the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Bronx Defenders and the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem all said they were “heartened to hear that Mayor Adams acknowledges that community-based treatment and least-restrictive services must guide the path to rehabilitation and recovery.”
“He is correct that homeless New Yorkers with mental health conditions have the right to health care, housing, treatment, respect, dignity and the hope that their futures will be safe and illnesses treated,” they said. “He is also correct that New York has experienced decades of dysfunction when it comes to caring for people who live with mental health diagnoses and that we must no longer be guided by fear.”
But many other initial public reactions to Adams’ plan were negative.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has a long history of suing the city over police practices, said Adams’ mental health policy may run afoul of multiple laws.
”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,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU’s executive director.
Lieberman drew a parallel between Adams’ policy and hardline homeless enforcement practices used by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, describing it as “a page from the failed Giuliani playbook.”
Craig Hughes, a senior social worker at the nonprofit Safety Net Project, said Adams should focus on getting homeless New Yorkers into supportive housing — where they can access social services in addition to shelter — instead of hospitalizing “people for being poor in public.”
“For the mayor, the visibility of homelessness is an emergency because of its PR ramifications; actually getting people into housing is far lower on the list of priorities,” Hughes said.
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