A subset of homeless and severely mentally ill New Yorkers who exhibit violent behavior will receive new intensive treatment and attention from the city, a piece of a major initiative Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to announce Thursday to address the city’s mental health and homelessness problems.
The plan to enhance treatment for the violent and mentally ill, a small population estimated to be around 200 to 300 people out of the city’s growing homeless population, are just one component of the initiative de Blasio is set to announce Thursday. Roughly 56,000 New Yorkers are currently residing in the city’s shelter system, and thousands more are living on city streets, although exact numbers are hard to come by.
Details of the initiative targeting the violent and mentally ill were provided to Capital by one of the anti-homelessness advocacy groups briefed by the de Blasio administration on Thursday’s planned announcement.
De Blasio has spoken frequently in recent weeks about the announcement, which the Wall Street Journal reported would attempt to shift mentally ill homeless people into housing or mental-health facilities. The administration plans to spend $6 billion to address homelessness over the next four years, and increase a homelessness voucher program.
The treatment for the small subset of the severely mentally ill who also exhibit patterns of violence would be closely modeled after a type of therapy already in use elsewhere, called Assertive Community Treatment [ACT], which uses teams of mental health, social work and nursing professionals to provide 24-hour individualized mental health care services to people who aren’t responsive to traditional mental health care treatment.
Those can be people who are homeless and have a hard time making it to appointments, the severely schizophrenic and those who lack the self-awareness to know they need to be treated for their illnesses, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Part of the initiative includes deploying mobile response teams, who will seek out the homeless and mentally ill wherever they are for treatment. And the city also plans to seek ways to better integrate the disparate agencies that interact with this group of people, including the NYPD, Human Resources Administration, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
ACT teams, which include trained psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, substance abuse and vocational rehabilitation counselors are already in place in several other states, including New Hampshire, and are coming into increasing vogue as national conversation around the need for increased mental health care services shifts.
De Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray have said in recent months that they want to radically overhaul the way New York City manages mental health issues. In September, McCray plans to announce a full “mental health roadmap” laying out how the city plans to accomplish that goal. Last month, she announced a new $30 million public-private partnership to better connect low-income New Yorkers with mental health treatment in their neighborhoods and to ease their possible discomfort with seeking such treatment.
The city’s Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced last month his plans to train 10,000 NYPD officers on how to better handle the mentally ill.
Bratton has said the city must find ways to manage a much smaller subset of the homeless population who are violent or breaking the law, and said that most of the city’s homeless are not a danger or threat to other New Yorkers, despite what he said was an increasing tendency for peope to conlfate the two populations.
“The fear is now spreading to the total homeless population, the vast majority of whom are not engaging in illegal behavior, not engaging in violence, but are now being seen by the public as somebody to fear,” Bratton said.
Homelessness and severe mental illness often go hand in hand. A 2013 census developed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that nearly 124,000 people, or one fifth of the country’s estimated 610,000 homeless people, had some form of severe mental illness. Those numbers are often seen as conservative estimates of the total U.S. homeless population.
Aggressive mental health intervention measures have gained traction across the country recently in response to a number of mass shootings by people who were later found to be suffering from some sort of severe mental illness.
On Wednesday, Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas introduced a federal bill designed to help prevent mass shootings that also targets mental health problems in the U.S. which included provisions for increasing use of Assertive Community Therapy to treat the severely mentally ill.
That piece of legislation, called the “Mental Health and Safe Communities Act,” earned praise from both the National Rifle Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Mayor Plans New Homeless Initiative
New York City Will Seek To Locate Violent Homeless People and Get Them Mental-Health Treatment
By JOSH DAWSEY Wall Street Journal August 5, 2015
New York City will move to locate homeless people who have shown violent tendencies and push them toward mental-health care, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office is expected to announce Thursday.
The push to find violent homeless New Yorkers and try to treat them comes as the mayor is under increasing fire for an apparently growing population of people living on the streets and after several attacks that have rattled the city.
The new effort will include looking for violent homeless people both in shelters and on the streets and will include new policing strategies at the city’s shelters. The New York Police Department is involved in the plan, which will also include new housing options for some of the homeless.
The city is expected to spend $22 million on the plan, according to a person briefed on it.
About $8 million of the plan will pay for more caseworkers and police officers throughout the shelter system. The city is also planning to pair social workers with police officers and focus more on homeless people who are supposed to take medication.
The plan is likely to face a range of challenges, including how to identify violent homeless people and convince them to receive help without violating their civil rights or privacy laws. It is difficult to track a transient population, and many are likely to rebuff city workers.
Advocates said they were hopeful about the plan but declined to comment until they knew more details.
Mr. de Blasio has come under increasing fire over homelessness. Some 53% of the city’s residents said they didn’t think he had handled the issue well, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday. The city’s shelter population is about 56,000—up from about 53,000 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office at the end of 2013—and police and residents have noticed more homeless people on the streets.
The new plan will be announced by Mr. de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who has taken interest in mental-health care. City Hall officials declined to elaborate on the plan before Thursday.
The plan also includes more training for 10,000 police officers and will mandate more coordination between the NYPD and the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
De Blasio, Facing Criticism, Is Taking On Homelessness With $22 Million Initiative
By Michael M. Grynbaum And Nikita Stewartaug. 5, 2015
The question has leapt from dinner parties to community boards to the nightly news, its implications echoing in the highest echelons of City Hall: Why are there so many homeless people in New York?
On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to appear with his wife, Chirlane McCray, to announce a $22 million mental health initiative that his administration says will aid the homeless.
For the mayor, a Democrat who has staked his administration on battling inequality, dealing with what seems to be a growing homelessness problem is as much about social reform as political survival. His critics have seized on what they say is a classic urban quality-of-life issue, arguing that Mr. de Blasio’s liberal policies are driving the city backward.
In fact, the number of people in shelters rose sharply during the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a political independent, and officials say the city’s shelter population is now falling after reaching a record high over the winter.
But Mr. de Blasio is losing the battle of perception. A poll released on Wednesday showed that more than half of city voters — 53 percent — disapprove of how he is handling poverty and homelessness. Only 36 percent approve, an unsettling trend for City Hall that held steady across boroughs and ethnicities.
A poll released on Wednesday showed that more than half of New York City’s voters, 53 percent, disapprove of how Mayor Bill de Blasio is handling poverty and homelessness. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
The debate over homelessness comes at a challenging time for Mr. de Blasio, whose approval ratings have dropped to the worst of his tenure. Even those sympathetic to his efforts say the complexities of why and where homelessness occurs can make it difficult to reassure uneasy voters.
“It’s not an enviable situation to try to explain why we have this increase of homeless individuals on the streets,” said Councilman Corey Johnson, a Democrat who described his constituents on the West Side of Manhattan as “alarmed” by a perceived rise in homelessness in their neighborhoods.
Mr. Johnson said he blamed specific policy moves by the Bloomberg administration for the current problem. “But when you tell an average New Yorker that, they don’t really care that much,” he added. “They just want less homeless people on the street.”
As of Monday, the city recorded 56,284 people in its shelters, up from about 53,000 at the end of the Bloomberg administration. City officials said the shelter population had fallen from a high of about 59,000 individuals recorded in December.
“It takes time to turn the ship around,” said Ishanee Parikh, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
Officials say the state has cut assistance, and they point to a February survey that found a 5 percent decrease in unsheltered homeless people in a year’s time. But the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, cast doubt on those findings, citing cold weather and the efforts of some people to conceal themselves.
Many New Yorkers say it seems apparent that there are more homeless people around.
“Oh my God, it’s increasing,” Tyrone Grant, 48, of Harlem, said on Wednesday, as he handed out magazines to passers-by in Union Square — his job until he can “get something better.”
“No doubt it’s going up, man, look around,” Mr. Grant said, pointing to a woman sitting at the corner of the park, holding a sign that read, “Having the hardest time of my life.” Mr. Grant added, “It’s been going up for a while.”
For his part, Mr. de Blasio — who is now routinely questioned about homelessness at news conferences — says homeless numbers “have not appreciably increased.” And he frequently invokes his administration’s core theme, arguing that the problem is less about enforcement troubles than the rise of inequality in New York.
“The reason we have so many people in shelter is because the cost of living skyrocketed in this city,” he said last week, “and people didn’t have the same economic opportunities they used to.”
The mayor’s announcement on Thursday is to include more caseworkers at shelters and more street outreach teams to work with mentally ill people. A housing component, which some advocates say is crucial to alleviating the problem, is expected to be announced in the fall.
Mr. de Blasio’s approach, which he says is a humane and effective way to help, is a sharp contrast to that of predecessors like Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who characterized homelessness as a scourge. Mr. Giuliani, a Republican, once said the right to sleep on the street “doesn’t exist anywhere”; Mr. de Blasio said recently that it was “not against the law to be homeless.”
His administration added $1 billion in funding for homeless services, and he recorded a message to landlords for an automated call, urging them to sign up for a program that helps shelter occupants move into rental homes.
Still, advocates for homeless people give the administration mixed reviews.
Judith Goldiner, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society, said Mr. de Blasio “inherited a huge problem from the prior administration,” calling Mr. Bloomberg’s performance “truly terrible.”
But she said she hoped Mr. de Blasio would put more emphasis on finding housing for shelter residents. “What we have seen is a lack of focus and commitment on the housing side of City Hall,” Ms. Goldiner said.
Last week, Mr. de Blasio convened a private meeting at City Hall with advocates and his senior aides, in which he emphasized his commitment to solving the homelessness problem.
Bonnie Stone, president of WIN, which stands for Women in Need, a nonprofit that works with homeless women and children, commended the city for trying new strategies. “I’m very optimistic at the effort,” she said. “The results, not so sure.” She said the city’s effort “doesn’t seem to be having the impact they would like.”
One ally of the mayor, the Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr., urged patience. “The homeless in our city did not happen overnight,” he said. “The remedy will not happen overnight.”
In Union Square Park, Savan Nhil, 29, of the Bronx, was taking a break from his job at a deli. He said it was “hard to tell” if the homeless population had risen.
But he added, “You definitely don’t see any progress.”
Joshua Jamerson contributed reporting.