by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
While explaining why New York City would begin removing mentally ill people from the city streets, even if they posed no obvious threat to others, Mayor Eric Adams said that we had a “moral obligation” to help them.
This is both a welcome move for New York City and an example for other metro areas across the United States to follow. Decades of neglecting this moral obligation, which became acute under former mayor Bill DeBlasio, made the city streets more disorderly than they should be, and more intimidating for residents, tourists, and businesses. New York became notorious among first-world cities for its homeless encampments.
Worst of all, this neglect resulted in the ongoing victimization of mentally ill people themselves by those who prey on the vulnerable, and the victimization of innocent citizens who are assaulted or murdered by people who need to be under intense psychiatric care and treatment. Earlier this year, a New York City woman was pushed to her death in front of a subway train by a schizophrenic who had been bouncing between hospitals, jails, and shelters across the city for more than a decade. Enough is enough.
The new protocols will allow the mentally ill who are incapable of taking care of themselves to be hospitalized, and will mandate that hospitals not discharge them until there is a plan for their ongoing care. So far, though, the mayor’s plans anticipate an expansion of the number of available psychiatric beds in New York City hospitals by just 50.
To state the obvious, that is woefully insufficient. Thousands of New Yorkers live on the streets or in the subways. And an explosion in the use of cheap, mind-altering drugs is already increasing the strain on mental-health services generally. New York has an abundance of mental-health resources not found in other communities, but providing ongoing care to mentally ill and homeless New Yorkers will require the expansion of existing inpatient and outpatient psychiatric facilities around the city. Decades of neglect cannot be reversed overnight.