Adams’s efforts to address the mental health crisis fall short

Adams’s efforts to address the mental health crisis fall short – A New York City public advocate discovered that there are fewer mental health crisis centers and more mobile response teams since 2019.

Some left-leaning Democrats were concerned that Eric Adams would place policing over addressing the root causes of crime like joblessness or mental illness when he took office as Mayor in January.

As Adams nears the end of his first year as mayor of New York, Adams has emphasized police work, flooding the subway with officers, and focusing on quality-of-life offenses.

According to Jumaane Wilkins, the city’s public advocate, efforts to improve its support for people with mental illness have stalled. A report will be released Friday.

The report showed that since 2019, the number and number of mental health crisis centers has fallen by half. However, the number and number of mobile mental crisis response teams has decreased. The report revealed that while police officers do not receive sufficient mental crisis response training, they are still the best option for responding to mental health emergencies.

In a letter to Mayor Williams, Mr. Williams stated that “the ongoing reckoning about how we define and create public safety has also placed a spotlight on the need to holistically address the crisis as an issue in health rather than just law enforcement.”

Adams's efforts to address the mental health crisis fall short

Adams has not shunned the city’s mental illness crisis or its potential impact on public safety. He and Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled a comprehensive plan that included 1,200 more overtime shifts per day on the subway, 2 new “transition home” units for subway and street homeless with severe mental illness, and 2 new 25-bed units at psychiatric centers.

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Last month, the mayor stated that the main reason crime has increased by nearly 40 percent in the subway compared to last year was mental illness.

Mr. Adams stated that “when you do an analysis on the subway crimes you will see that it’s driven by people who have mental health issues.”

The city was forced to reduce spending this month by a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Instead, it decided to cut $12 million from the Division of Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response, or B-Heard. This division sends teams to mental health professionals to assist in certain emergency situations, and not the police.

According to the report of the public advocate, the city should stop using police officers to respond to acute mental illnesses. The report recommends that the city establish a hotline similar to 311 for mental health emergencies and that the Department of Education provide annual mental health screenings in schools.

The city was praised for its creation of more drop-in centers where the homeless can receive food and other services. Adams’ administration increased the number and quality of safe haven beds, temporary housing that offers substance abuse and mental health services to the homeless. They also committed to making 4,000 beds.

Adams's efforts to address the mental health crisis fall short

Fabien LEVY, a spokesperson for Mr. Adams, stated that the administration agrees that there is still much work to be done to protect New Yorkers and support the most vulnerable. He also noted that the public advocate acknowledged that $171 million was spent on housing and services for those with mental disorders in New York.

Williams, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Governor this year, published a similar report in 2019 and found that some mental health services had been reduced in the city.

There were eight respite centers in 2019 that offer alternatives to hospitalization for people with mental disorders. Only four centers were open for adults this year and one for children. 

According to the report, $5 million more should be allocated for opening additional centers.

Only two mental health urgent care centers exist at the moment in East Harlem, and the Bronx. However, the report recommends at least one in every borough.

In 2019, there were 19 mobile crisis teams, down from 24 in 2019. According to the report, teams should be available beyond their 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. hours of work and can be reached via a three-digit phone number that is not already associated with the police.

In the midterm elections and the race for governor, crime was a key issue. Lee Zeldin (the Republican nominee for governor) repeatedly called the city a dangerous place. This message was heard far beyond the city’s boundaries.

“The message as we come off these midterms and especially the disaster in the state is that people care about public safety, and we haven’t responded well,” Mr. Williams stated. It’s either to ignore the problem or jump to Republican-like talking points which are very dangerous.

Ruth Lowenkron (director of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest’s disability justice program) said that while some people with mental illness have been involved in public safety, these situations have not contributed to the increase in crime.

“We must recognize that if there are better mental health services, better housing options, and full services for people who have been neglected for decades, then that is the way we can avoid mental health crises as well as a small percentage of public safety problems,” Ms. Lowenkron stated.