New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently launched a homeless-related policy, the “Involuntary Removal Directive.” As its name suggests, this order by the Democratic mayor, in the nation’s most populous city, would force people with severe mental illnesses off the streets and into hospitals.
But the November directive is drawing pushback from local mental health advocates and facilities that serve these people in need, which often significantly overlap with New York City’s homeless population. The fight has implications beyond New York City’s five boroughs. Local officials nationally are already grappling with issues at stake in Adams’s mental health order and are no doubt watching closely.
Adams’s directive lists three circumstances that may initiate involuntary detention: “serious untreated physical injuries, unawareness or delusional misapprehension of surroundings, or unawareness or misapprehension of physical condition or health.”
The strategy is “long term,” according to Adams, with the goal to initiate “an immediate shift in how we interpret our obligation to those in need.”
In the policy announcement, the mayor said, “Going forward, we will make every effort to assist those who are suffering from mental illness and whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs. And let me be clear: We will continue to do all we can to persuade those in need of help to accept services voluntarily, but we will not abandon them if those efforts cannot overcome the person’s unawareness of their own illness.”
Critics of the policy say forcing these people into facilities against their will is the wrong approach. Instead, they’re pushing for more investment in mental health services and housing.
On Dec. 9, mental health advocates filed a federal court motion to halt the policy. They contended it is unlawful and permits involuntary detention of people who may only appear to have a mental illness. Many have also criticized the plan’s impact on police agencies.
“The new involuntary removal policy doubles down on decades of failed, police-centered city mandates just when we should be creating health-centered supports for people with mental illnesses,” said Marinda van Dalen, an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Another vocal critic of the order has been New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. She referred to the directive as an idea rather than a comprehensive plan.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said the mayor has focused too strongly on enforcement by city officials who are not equipped or trained to handle such sensitive situations. Williams also expressed concern that hospitals would face bed shortages with the influx of new patients.
In a Dec. 12 court hearing, plaintiff’s attorneys insisted the announcement by Eric Adams was an initiative that has caused fear among New Yorkers. However, the city attorney assured the court the Involuntary Removal Directive was an effort to educate police, stating the mayor’s intent is to provide more assistance to those with mental illnesses, not less.
After the hearing, Judge Paul Crotty on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York postponed deciding on the directive and has not said when a verdict is likely to come.
In a Dec. 13 letter issued to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) and Eric Adams, the Mental Health Association of New York State called for further support through better pay for city officials confronting the mental health crisis, more general hospital beds, better education about the condition, and expansion of housing programs.
“Instead of using this as an opportunity to put individuals who are homeless and have mental health challenges in the back wards of hospitals, let’s have a commonsense approach that does not criminalize mental health while still ensuring people feel safe in their communities,” the agency wrote.
New York is not the first state to expand policies to combat homelessness and mental health concerns. Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed into a law a policy to place people with select disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, under a conservatorship that would let a court order a treatment plan for up to one year, which could be extended to two.
The Newsom administration estimated 12,000 people could get receive care under the program, which is set to begin next year.