This week, Mayor de Blasio debuted a new program, called NYC Safe, that will identify, treat, and regularly follow up with New Yorkers who have both histories of mental illness and histories of violence. The initiative, which will cost the city $22 million a year, is part of a larger effort to reform how the city cares for the mental health of its residents. Its debut comes on the heels of a number of violent acts around the city committed by individuals known to be prone to violence–acts that could have been prevented by closer monitoring of their perpetrators.
The program will operate out of a central NYC Safe hub, which will allow de Blasio’s Criminal Justice team, the NYPD, the city’s homeless services, and the Department of Health to communicate and collaborate in evaluating and treating individuals. “We have two systems—the criminal justice system and the mental health system—that until now haven’t had regular, real-time ways to communicate with one another,” said Criminal Justice Office Director Elizabeth Glazer. The program aims to bridge those communication gaps, pairing mental health professionals with criminal justice workers so that the mentally ill aren’t unduly criminalized.
The program will bolster the city’s mental healthcare personnel. Five new co-response teams stationed around the city, made up of both NYPD officers and DOH professionals, will be authorized to go out and assess a mentally ill person if a call is made to the hub. About $5 million of funding will go towards increasing security in homeless shelters. Shelters around the city will get more DHS Peace Officers and NYPD officers.
De Blasio pointed out that while many media outlets were depicting the program as an initiative aimed at helping the homeless, it actually targets the seriously mentally ill and violent, only some of whom are homeless. “They are a concern to all of us whether they live in an apartment building, a private home, in a shelter or on the street,” the mayor said. “The bottom line here is that treatment saves lives. The absence of treatment puts lives in danger. Sometimes it’s the life of the individual themselves; sometimes it’s the life of others.”
A number of recent violent incidents illustrate this. In May, cops shot a hammer-wielding man who had targeted women in a series of attacks around Manhattan. In April, in Kips Bay, Manhattan, a homeless ex-con was charged with raping a 23-year-old woman in a bar just three blocks from the shelter where he was staying. Earlier that month, the director of Project Renewal Shelter in the Bronx was murdered by an ex-con who lived there. Many of these incidents could have been prevented if the city had kept better tabs on the mental health of their perpetrators, who were known to have histories of violence.
The initiative is part of a larger effort to reform the way the city approaches mental health, an issue that hits close to home for the de Blasios. The First Lady, Chirlane McCray, says her own parents suffered from undiagnosed mental illness, and the couple’s daughter, Chiara de Blasio, has been awarded for bravely speaking out about her battles with addiction and depression. “Most people who suffer from mental illness are not violent,” McCray, who’s helped spearhead the effort, said. “But those who are have an outsized impact on the lives of their loved ones, families and the communities where they live. Violence is not acceptable, and it is not acceptable to punish people who are sick when we know their condition is treatable.”
New York City has a long, dark history of having no idea how to deal with its severely mentally ill residents. Throughout the 1800s, the mentally ill were shipped off to a lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island, in conditions undercover journalist Nellie Bly described in her expose “Ten Days in a Mad-House” as “torture.” Things have progressed since then, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. NYC Safe seems like a step in the right direction.
[via the New York Times]