As frontline physicians who care for patients experiencing the compounded daily impacts of homelessness, mass incarceration, and mental illness, we are alarmed and outraged by NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ directive instructing law enforcement to use involuntary hospitalization against New Yorkers exhibiting mental health issues even if they are not posing a threat to themselves or others. CIR members unreservedly condemn the policy in solidarity with the community organizations and individuals at the center of this fight.
This misguided directive will wield the force of the police and carceral system on vulnerable individuals which is extremely detrimental to their health and will likely mean putting houseless people with mental illness in life-threatening danger. Involuntary hospitalization is a measure that is not to be taken lightly as it strips a person of their autonomy and can ultimately leave patients with a greater distrust of the medical system that then creates further barriers to care. We should be pursuing proven measures to address homelessness and mental health crises such as permanent housing solutions and trained mental health responders functioning as the first point of contact for those in distress. Instead, the mayor’s plan will weaponize involuntary hospitalization and force the medical system to act as an extension of law enforcement.
This directive will also deeply affect our struggling hospital systems that, for years, have been plagued with understaffing, insufficient number of beds, and overcrowding. Mayor Adams, instead of working to address these chronic issues, is choosing to exacerbate this crisis by further stigmatizing mental illness and unhoused New Yorkers while also routing a large influx of patients to hospitals that are already stretched thin. This will dramatically increase the workload of overburdened hospital and emergency department workers, creating a high tension and dangerous environment for both patients and staff. Patients deserve to be treated in a care setting that is not only properly resourced to meet their needs but that fully respects their dignity as human beings. This directive will not address homelessness, but it will especially harm those who disproportionately experience homelessness and violence at the hands of the police: Black, Hispanic/Latinx, people of color, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ New Yorkers.
The real solution to our city’s mental health crisis is in ensuring New Yorker’s needs are met by guaranteeing access to affordable housing, food, and quality healthcare, including mental health services. The city must properly fund supportive housing and community-based mental health programs instead of destructive and ineffective policies. CIR stands in solidarity with houseless New Yorkers, community organizations, elected leaders and everyone speaking out against this shameful directive.