New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) revealed a new plan Tuesday to remove people with severe, untreated mental illness from city streets and subways.
Under the plan, New York City agencies would be able to involuntarily hospitalize people who appear to be mentally ill and are a threat to themselves, even if they do not pose a risk to others around them.
In a Tuesday press conference, Adams directed city agencies such as the New York Police Department and emergency responders to bring the mentally ill to hospitals for extended emergency care.
Adams said that the city has a “moral obligation” to help those with severe mental illness get the “treatment and care” they need.
“The common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent, suicidal or presenting a risk of imminent harm,” Adams said.
“This myth must be put to rest. Going forward, we will make every effort to assist those who are suffering from mental illness and whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs,” he said.
Adams added that the city will continue to try to convince the street homeless suffering from mental illness to “accept help voluntarily.”
Training for police officers, emergency medical services and other medical personnel will begin immediately, Adams said. But in a memorandum posted online, city officials said case law does not provide “extensive guidance” on removals for mental health evaluations.
According to the document, precedent does suggest a few circumstances that would support the claim that a person is unable to support their basic needs due to mental health issues, including “serious untreated physical injury, unawareness or delusional misapprehension of surroundings, or unawareness or delusional misapprehension of physical condition or health.”
In New York City, homeless people with mental illness are often brought to hospitals and discharged a few days later once their condition improves slightly, Adams said in the press conference.
Under the new plan, hospitals will be told to keep those patients longer and release them only when a long-term plan for their care has been settled, The New York Times reported.
“When we hospitalize those in crisis, it will be with a sense of mission to help them heal and to prepare them for an appropriate community placement,” Adams added.
Adams’s plan has drawn sharp criticism from some advocacy groups that question the legality and the efficacy of the new approach.
“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, “ said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a statement.
“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. Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care,” Lieberman added.