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The Revolving Door of Involuntary Hospitalizations for NYC's Homeless



HOST, VALENTINA ZARINS MARTINEZ

New York City police now have the official authority to take unhoused people with mental illness to the hospital... whether they want to go or not. The policy is controversial. It belongs to Mayor Adams. And, it has received pushback from mental health, disability and homeless rights activists. Some advocates say the plan focuses too much on temporary solutions and is doomed to be ineffective. Tricia Stortz reports.


TRICIA STORTZ

Dr. McWelling Todman is co-chair of Psychology at The New School for Social Research. He started his career as a therapist for the city’s homeless. And, he says police have been institutionalizing New Yorkers for decades… legally and illegally


DR. MCWELLING TODMAN

What Adams is proposing is to do things that really were always there. There was nothing stopping the police in the past from doing what he's asking them to do now, he’s just enforcing them.


STORTZ

Todman says there’s an even bigger issue… the Mayor’s plan doesn't provide support for the unhoused once they have been released from hospitals. He also says the city has been here before... back when Congress passed the Community Mental Health Act of 1963.


The legislation was supposed to expand community mental health centers as alternatives to state hospitals. But, with those big hospitals closing, many patients fell through the cracks.


TODMAN

In the early seventies, there was a deliberate attempt to deinstitutionalize people, to move people out from the very restrictive state hospitals and back into the community where they could be treated. And, that was a well-intentioned action.


Unfortunately, when they started closing the large state hospitals, they didn't reinvest the money in community services the way the law was written.


STORTZ

And, Todman says Adam’s Plan overlooks the same gaps. Emergency services and medication only go so far in treating ongoing mental illness. But, patients need long-term care and there aren’t many options.


TODMAN

The person gets into the system and then there really isn't any place eventually to put them except back on the street. The revolving door problem... it's still there.


STORTZ

Nancy Bzadough [Bah-ZA-doe] is a therapist in New York. She treats severe cases of mental illness among the previously homeless. And worries about the same thing.


NANCY BZADOUGH

Where do these people go after being discharged? Maybe some of them do get resources, thankfully, but a lot of them go back to the street... they go back to the subway. Unfortunately, it's a cycle.


STORTZ

Why do you think that there is such a push to hospitalize right now?


BZADOUGH

I think people are scared // we saw an increase of homelessness and mental health issues, especially during the pandemic. And to me it feels like the push to hospitalize is their way of trying to address all of these issues quickly.


STORTZ

Bzadough says the Mayor’s Plan should include investment in long-term counseling, housing and employment services.


STORTZ

She hopes they’d benefit someone like Shay Ferrell who has been unhoused for the past year after losing her job. Ferrel came to New York from Missouri hoping the city’s system would provide better support for her chronic health conditions. She voluntarily admitted herself to Bellevue Hospital in September, but says still waiting to get the care she needs.


SHAY FERRELL

So much attention is being paid towards ramping up law enforcement when you have a mental health system in the city... that is completely broken... and I am the best case scenario and I'm still homeless.


STORTZ

Ferrell says she’s been fighting for basic services and has been moving from shelter to shelter since being released from the hospital.


FERRELL

People want to find the easy solution to get rid of a problem. And it's just because they don't like looking at it.


STORTZ

The Mayor’s Press Office didn’t respond to a request for comment about plans for additional long-term care options for unhoused New Yorkers. Tricia Stortz, Columbia Radio News.




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