On the streets of the city, fear and hope as the mayor launches a campaign to eliminate the mentally ill

On the streets of the city, fear and hope as the mayor launches a campaign to eliminate the mentally ill

It was after dark Tuesday in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park when Meeka Brown, 48, learned that Mayor Eric Adams had announced a citywide push for authorities to evict those with the disease. of severe, untreated mental illness from the streets and subways of New York – even against their will, and even if they are no threat to others.

“I am one,” said Ms Brown, who said she was schizophrenic and also suffered from a psychotic disorder. “My mental state is taken care of because it is well medicated; I try to stay in control and not let it control me. She was sitting on a park bench. As she spoke, a man walked past her in the dark, gesticulating wildly.

Ms Brown was torn as she digested the mayor’s new policy. Officials in New York have said it will require the involuntary hospitalization of people deemed too mentally ill to care for themselves.

If she were to spiral, Ms Brown said she fears the city’s new marching orders will make her, a black woman, a target for police. “I’m afraid I’m afraid of this now,” she said.

And yet, Ms Brown has credited the three times in the past that police pulled her off the streets and unwittingly committed her to a psychiatric ward, for her current mental stability. “The stigma is that psychiatric services are bad,” she said. “They’re not. They care.”

In and under the city streets on Tuesday evening, men and women facing homelessness and mental illness digested the news with concern for themselves and their peers, and with some hope that a new approach would make the city and their lives safer.

About 3,400 people lived on streets and subways in January, according to the city’s annual estimate, criticized by some as a vast undercount. Studies have shown that a large majority of homeless New Yorkers suffer from mental illness or other serious health conditions, and a series of random street attacks during the pandemic have undermined the community’s sense of safety. town.

Earlier this month, Jumaane Williams, the city’s public attorney, released a report criticizing the mayor’s efforts to help New Yorkers with serious mental illness. Programs for them have declined, the public attorney said, and Mr. Adams has demonstrated an overreliance on the police.

On Tuesday evening at a subway station in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, Diane Borsey, 66, said she had experienced violence from others like her who are homeless, but also from police officers. Under the new policy, she feared officers had “too much power”.

But others, like Michael McLurkin, 47, who goes by the name Quest and who has slept on the streets of Harlem for the past two months, endorsed the mayor’s plan as a much-needed initiative to deal with the dangerous situations facing he faces each night.

“They are violent people here,” Mr. McLurkin said as he stood outside the Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem 125th Street station. “If people need that kind of support, that would be creative.”

Outside the Pennsylvania station, Stephen Gomes, 50, stood next to a shopping cart filled with his belongings – an assortment of bags, a plastic Starbucks cup, change and a pair of gloves. He accepted.

“Everything that’s going on in our society, I think is pretty justified,” he said of the new directive. “All mental institutions seem to have been closed and many mentally ill people seem to be displaced within the homeless society. So what are you gonna do? Send the police to arrest them,” Mr Gomes said.

In Washington Square Park, a group of people shared a bottle of brown liquor on a bench. A few of them were talking aloud to each other. A man was rocking quietly.

“It’s a double-edged sword because yes, they need help, and it’s hard for them to get help here, but you don’t start putting them away just because they have the ‘Look crazy,’ said a truck driver who said he has a home, but spends his evenings with a community he describes as a ‘street’ in the park.

In New York, homelessness disproportionately affects black people, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy organization. The truck driver, who declined to share his name, said he fears increased interaction with police could be deadly for mentally ill black people on the streets.

“I thought they wanted to have some sort of advocacy to deal with the mentally ill,” he said. “I thought that was what they were supposed to do. You want more police on the mentally ill?

On 125th Street, outside the Metro-North station, Mr. McLurkin smoked a cigarette and pondered the implications of the new policy. Although he had already been diagnosed with a mental illness, he did not feel at risk.

“They may have power over others, but they can’t take me away,” Mr McLurkin said. “No one can take my spirit, my joy and my pride.”

Liset Cruz, Téa Kvetenadze, Sasha von Oldershausen and Brittany Kriegstein contributed reporting.

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