For immediate release
Contact: Maya Martin-Udry | email@example.com | 646.400.7621
New York, December 6, 2022 – Last week, Mayor Eric Adams announced a directive to involuntarily commit homeless people with serious mental illness to hospitals. Mayor Adams has instructed police officers and city workers to take people to hospitals, even if they pose no risk of harm to themselves or others. Harlem United staunchly opposes this outrageous directive.
Harlem United CEO, Jacqui Kilmer stated “This directive denies consent and forces hospitalization of unhoused persons and people who have serious mental illness. It is prejudiced, dangerous and will deepen mistrust between our unhoused neighbors and people who should be working with them.”
Every part of this directive is bad.
First of all, police are not equipped to identify mental illness. That assessment should be done by qualified mental health professionals to determine whether someone needs hospital care. Not to mention that neither mental illness nor being unhoused are illegal activities that justify police intervention.
Police intervention is also likely to cause way more harm than good. According to some estimates, people with serious mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police. Increasing police interaction with people who are unhoused and people who have a serious mental illness is a recipe for disaster.
Secondly, involuntary hospitalization is not the answer. Our hospital system is already overburdened with extreme shortages of critical resources like staffing and emergency room beds. Why is Mayor Adams filling beds with people who do not want to be there, and very likely don’t need to be hospitalized? Particularly when hospitalization is not a solution to a primary condition of their experience – homelessness.
Finally, and most importantly, people with mental illness have just as much right to be in a public space as anyone. They have a right to live their lives freely, and to refuse services if they do not want them. Especially if those services, like shelters and hospitals, are sites of trauma and danger for them.
This country has a long and sordid history of curtailing the freedom of people society deems “undesirable” through incarceration in mental institutions. The legacy of that practice is alive and well in Mayor Adams’ directive.
Unhoused people are being scapegoated. Mayor Adams is painting a picture of our unhoused neighbors as dangerous and blaming them for the “rising crime rates” in the subway (a widespread misrepresentation that is not supported by data). When the reality is that people living on the streets are far more likely to be victims of violent crime.
Time and again, Mayor Adams has shown that his goal is not to help our homeless neighbors, but to run them out of public spaces through arrests, harassment, discrimination, and now forced hospitalization.
We have a moral obligation to offer support and services to homeless people, including those with serious mental illness. And we must invest in real solutions that do not violate the civil liberties of people in the most precarious positions.
We know the real solution because we’ve been doing it for decades. At Harlem United, we provide emergency shelter and supportive housing that integrate both medical and mental healthcare. The solution to New York City’s homelessness crisis is deceptively simple. It’s not sweeps and policing and coercion. It’s housing.
Harlem United is a social services non-profit with decades of experience providing supportive housing alongside medical and mental healthcare to people experiencing homelessness.