New Report Shows NYC Efforts to Address Mental Health Crisis Fall Short
By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh
New York City’s efforts to increase help to people suffering from mental illness has lagged, as per a recent article in the NY Times. On Friday, NYC public advocate Jumaane Williams released a report detailing flaws in the city’s mental illness assistance. The report revealed that since 2019, the number of mental health crisis centers has actually dropped by half, and the number of mobile mental crisis response teams has also dropped. The report found that NYPD officers are also not receiving adequate training in mental crisis response, even though they are the ones called in to respond to mental health emergencies. “The ongoing reckoning with how we define and produce public safety has also put a spotlight on the need to holistically address this crisis as an issue of health, rather than simply law enforcement,” Mr. Williams wrote in a letter to NYC Mayor Eric Adams.
When Mayor Adams took office almost a year ago, his main agenda was to reduce crime. Progressives now fault the mayor, saying he has only added more police presence to the streets and subways, but has made little strides in improving the mental health crisis. The mayor has many times acknowledged that mental health is an important issue. Last month, Adams said that mental illness was the main reason that crime in the subway has jumped close to 40 percent compared to last year.
“When you do an analysis of the subway crimes, you are seeing that it’s being driven by people with mental health issues,” Mr. Adams said. As per the Times, in response, together with Gov. Kathy Hochul, he announced a plan in October calling for 1,200 additional overtime officer shifts each day on the subway, two new “transition to home” units for street and subway homeless with severe mental illnesses, and two new dedicated 25-bed units at psychiatric centers. Despite the new initiatives, the city is facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. When push came to shove, the city cut $12 million from the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, or B-Heard, which sends teams of mental health professionals to certain emergencies in lieu of the police.
Public Advocate William’s report calls on the city not to use police officers to respond in cases of acute mental illness. The report also recommends that the city create a dedicated hotline for mental health emergencies, and additionally suggests that the Department of Education provide annual mental health screenings in schools. The report said there are currently just four adult respite care centers in NYC, which provide alternatives to hospitalization for those suffering from a mental crisis, compared to eight in 2019. The report recommends that an additional $5 million to be allocated to open more centers. Also, there are currently just two mental health urgent care centers– in East Harlem and the Bronx. The report recommends that there be at least one in each of the five boroughs.
The report acknowledged and lauded Adams for adding more drop-in centers where homeless New Yorkers can get food, services and safe haven beds. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Mr. Adams, replied saying the administration agrees that “much work remains to support our most vulnerable and keep all New Yorkers safe,” In a comment to the Times, the spokesman noted William’s acknowledgement that $171 million has been spent on housing and health services for mentally disturbed homeless New Yorkers.