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It’s Wednesday and We’re Involuntarily Confining People to Conceal Our Societal Failures Again

Eric Adams announces a huge policy shift before jetting off to Greece and Qatar, and more links for your day.

Mayor Adams stands alone at a podium in the Blue Room at City Hall announcing his new policy.

Mayor Eric Adams announces a new pathway forward to address the ongoing crisis of individuals experiencing severe mental illnesses left untreated and unsheltered in New York City’s streets and subways. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

On Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams told New Yorkers that he is directing City workers to identify mentally ill people living on the streets—including those who pose no threat to anyone else—and send them to hospitals against their will. 

"We can no longer deny the reality that untreated psychosis can be a cruel and all-consuming condition that often requires involuntary intervention, supervised medical treatment and long-term care," Adams said, when announcing his policy. "My administration is determined to do more to assist people with mental illness, especially those with untreated psychotic disorders who pose a risk of harm to themselves even if they are not an imminent threat to the public."

The law already allows agents of the state to commit someone who poses "serious harm" to themselves or others, but Adams said he is expanding that criteria to include someone "whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs."

These decisions will be made by a combination of outreach workers, FDNY/EMS, and NYPD officers, but it seems the Mayor's Office is still figuring out how this will work in practice. The directive notes that there is a dearth of case law on committing people based on, say, the appearance of poverty and the appearance of mental illness observed during "short interactions in the field." 

Adams began the press conference by invoking "the shadow boxer on the street corner in Midtown, mumbling to himself as he jabs at an invisible adversary" and "the unresponsive man unable to get off the train at the end of the line without assistance," but later reversed himself. "Not wearing shoes, shadow boxing, talking to oneself. That is not the criteria," Adams said. 

Roughly one in six homeless New Yorkers are dealing with mental illness; half of the deaths on the subway system this year have involved a mentally ill person. There is an unquestionable need for our society to better assist the severely mentally ill, to give them the things they need to live a decent and dignified life. 

The most critical thing they need? A home. A permanent place to live. A recent investigation by Crain's showed that many New Yorkers with severe mental health issues are trapped in a cycle involving hospitals, understaffed nonprofits, and the criminal justice system. Success often relies on being able to secure a long stay at a state psychiatric bed before being placed into an apartment, which means waiting in a hospital that is far too eager to discharge a patient because they are expensive and sometimes disruptive. "It's easier to get into Harvard than it is a state psychiatric center," one professional said. 

There are only 3,300 of these long-term beds statewide. Hospitals operate some 5,700 more short-term beds, nowhere near enough to meet the need. 

Adams pointed to Governor Kathy Hochul's announcement earlier this fall that she would provide 50 more hospital beds, and that's exactly how many of these beds are currently available—or will be, in 2023, according to a mayoral advisor. "We are going to find a bed for everyone that needs and come into what we are doing," Adams insisted.

Not involved in this new initiative: providing more mental health assistance to New Yorkers currently in the shelter system, or finding more permanent housing solutions.

Housing and homeless advocates panned the announcement. "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," Chris Hughes, a senior social worker for the Safety Net Project, told the Daily News.

Even the mayor's friend and ostensible leader of his outreach program, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, questioned the wisdom of the initiative. "Is it 'out of sight, out of mind' or is it to help people?" he told Gothamist.

Adams framed this plan as the "logical extension" of his previous initiatives, which include ramping up the longstanding policy of sweeping away homeless encampments and refusing to allow people to sleep in subway stations. 

None of these solutions involve long-term housing, so the city's nightly shelter population has continued to grow by more than 40 percent since January, from 46,000 people to 66,000.

Also new this week: The Adams administration has instituted a ban on filming inside of these shelters.

In an effort to reassure New Yorkers about all of this, Mayor Adams is holding multiple town halls this weekend to...JKJK, he's flying to Greece today and then Qatar for the World Cup.

Here's some more stuff we are keeping our eye on:

  • The MTA is going to spend $1 billion on accessibility upgrades. At yesterday's committee meetings meeting, the transit police chief blamed subway crime on "bail reform," while another board member conceded they don't have enough resources to stop drivers who block their license plates and evade hundreds of millions in tolls. 
  • Good work, CoinDesk. Good night, CoinDesk.
  • The Sanitation Department's most recent foray into streetwear is rat-related, and features a quote that we personally wouldn't have said out loud!
  • Governor Hochul is supposedly going to make "housing" her priority in 2023, after taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate campaign cash.
  • Bill de Blasio correctly assessed that he could do some shady shit and no one but the poindexters would ultimately care.
  • Speaking of that lovable giant bastard: who will buy this crooked barge?
  • Seventeen upstate middle school teachers are suing over the installation of a secret bathroom camera.
  • The ethics investigation against New York's former chief judge is apparently "frozen," because she resigned. Extremely convenient!
  • Go check out these cool photos of the East Village in the '80s from photographer-turned-actor Brooke Smith.

And finally, we just can't get enough of this goat:

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