New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan on Tuesday to involuntarily remove homeless people with mental illnesses from the streets and subways and force them to receive a psychiatric evaluation.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Adams said the city has a “moral obligation” to help all homeless people with mental illnesses get treatment and care. The plan authorizes police officers to involuntarily hospitalize homeless people who appear to be mentally ill or pose a threat to themselves or others. Involuntary hospitalization is required even if the homeless person doesn’t appear to pose an imminent threat to the public.
“The very nature of their illness keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support. Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking,” Adams said.
Adams said the plan would address a “crisis we see all around us.”
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the unhoused population in New York City in recent years has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression, with a near-record 20,764 single adults sleeping in shelters each night in September 2022. The National Alliance on Mental Health found that 20.8% of homeless people in the U.S. have a serious mental illness.
A surge of attacks on New York City streets and subways has raised alarm in recent years, with many of the assaults involving homeless people. Last month, Adams laid blame for the attacks on mental illnesses. Adams and other elected officials have been pushed to take action on issues surrounding homelessness and mental health.
“As a city, this work — at the intersection of public safety and mental illness — represents part of the larger strategy, which is centered on providing everyone living with serious mental illness the basic building blocks of recovery: Health care, a home, and a community,” the city’s health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, said in a tweet in support of Adams’ efforts.
But the plan to involuntarily remove and hospitalize homeless people raised some concerns and criticism. Maria Town, the president and CEO of the American Association of People With Disabilities, said in a tweet that the plan is a violation of rights and aims to make homeless people less visible rather than improve their outcome.
New York City Council member Tiffany Cabán also said in a tweet that the plan is “deeply problematic” and that deadly situations are often created by the wrong responder and response rather than the mental health crisis itself.
“Consent is key & health infrastructure is necessary. Voluntary consent offered by the appropriate responders paired [with] ample and appropriate options. Transport to emergency rooms is often not the best answer and there needs to be deep investment in safe respites, clinics, [outpatient commitments] and more,” she said in the tweet.
Adams was on the receiving end of criticism from advocates and progressives earlier this year for clearing homeless encampments and using policing tactics in efforts to respond to homeless New Yorkers and improve public safety.