Psychiatric expert questions forced hospitalization of homeless people in New York

New York City Mayor Eric Adams claimed that the city’s strategy to tackle homelessness and mental health needs bold reform.

But after proposing a measure that would send officers, emergency workers and other city agents to involuntarily detain people who appear to be “mentally ill” and “a danger to themselves” for psychiatric evaluations, she has Raised some red flags among the mentally ill, health professionals, city planners and others.

Kim Hopper, a professor of clinical and sociomedical sciences at Columbia University, spoke to ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast on Wednesday about his thoughts on the plan.

NYPD officers escort a person sleeping on a train in New York on May 23, 2020.

Noam Galai/Getty Images

Hopper, a medical anthropologist who worked as a research scientist for the New York City Office of Mental Health for 25 years, said mental health institutions and organizations remain unclear about their role after a patient is placed in their care .

“It’s very vague as to what will happen next, and the receiving end hasn’t received any description at all,” Hopper told ABC News.

Adams proposed the move in November, citing instances where mentally ill homeless people were hospitalized but released a short time later. Under his proposal, hospitals should keep patients in a psychiatric bed until they are stable and discharge them when a more concrete plan for future care is in place.

“Without this intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, plagued by delusions and confused thinking,” Adams said in a news conference announcing the plan. “They cycle in and out of hospitals and prisons, but New Yorkers rightly expect our city to help them, and we will help them.”

NYPD officers, EMTs and other city agents are being trained in practices for reaching out to the homeless and “providing compassionate care.”

The policy states that “the case law does not provide comprehensive guidance on deportation for mental health assessments based on brief on-site interactions.” But the policy says it provides examples of someone’s inability to meet their basic needs, including aggravated untreated physical injury, ignorance of the area and others.

PHOTO: Mayor Eric Adams at New York City Hall, January 17, 2022, in New York.

Mayor Eric Adams at New York City Hall, January 17, 2022, in New York.

New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Adams claimed the city would find a bed for anyone who needed it.

Hopper said New York City has implemented multiple plans to address the homelessness crisis over the decades, and he said one of the most effective methods is a longer-term approach. For example, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, homeless teams spent months building trust with the homeless, sometimes offering coffee to help them weather the cold temperatures and helping them volunteer to get off the streets, he said.

“The goal is for people to figure out that there is an alternative that will preserve both their empowerment and their dignity while still getting them off the streets without subjecting them to the shelter regime,” Hopper said.

Although officers and other agents are being trained in tactics for targeting individuals with care, Hopper said he was concerned about how those encounters would play out.

“They have a limited toolkit, and the toolkit they know best is one that has kind of overwhelming power,” Hopper said.

Hopper said there are still many questions surrounding the plan, including who will advise the mayor on his plan, but he hopes they look back on past successes.

“I’m not a particularly original thinker on this point. This is kind of 40 years of hard-won experience that keeps telling us that,” he said.

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