New York City Initiative Aims to Help Mentally Ill People Who Get Violent

Advocates for homeless people praised the initiative but maintained that permanent housing should be addressed as well. Credit Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Advocates for homeless people praised the initiative but maintained that permanent housing should be addressed as well. Credit Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Mental health experts will fan out to New York City’s homeless shelters, into the streets and to other places to treat mentally ill people who exhibit violent behavior, as part of an initiative announced on Thursday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The mayor said the goal of NYC Safe, a $22 million mental health initiative, was to aggressively reach mentally ill people prone to hurting themselves or others. Various agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services and the New York Police Department, will share information with one another about those people to make sure they are being treated, city officials said. About $5 million of the funding will go toward increasing security around and inside some homeless shelters.

The initiative follows the killing of a Bronx shelter director by a former resident in April, as well as various tabloid stories about vagrants harassing or offending passers-by. The episodes, coupled with a public perception that homelessness is worsening, have beenproblematic for Mr. de Blasio, as he struggles to assure the public that the city remains safe while also trying to destigmatize mental illness.

Mr. de Blasio said the news media was portraying the initiative as a program for homeless people, but he said it was more about helping people with serious mental illness.

“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,” he 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.”

The initiative involves creating teams of clinicians, police officers, peace officers and other professionals to help groups of people who have untreated mental illnesses. For example, there will be three “intensive mobile treatment teams” to reach a core of about 75 people who are in and out of jail and in danger of becoming homeless. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will have a team that monitors the treatment received.

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