Eric Adams was “really disturbed” by the proposal, he said on the debate stage during New York City’s 2021 mayoral primary, reports Politico. One of his opponents, entrepreneur-turned-politician Andrew Yang, said the city needed to get homeless people with mental illness off the streets and into treatment. “Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else has rights? We do! The people and families of the city,” Yang said. Adams panned Yang’s position as an attempt to “demonize” people experiencing mental health issues. Less than a year as mayor, Adams, directed first responders, crisis intervention teams and outreach workers to do something very similar to what Yang proposed: send people who appear unable to meet their basic needs due to mental illness to hospitals against their will. Adams isn’t alone in embracing a policy that has long been popular among Republicans and is now experiencing a Democrat-led resurgence. Several Democratic West Coast mayors are using civil commitments as a tool to address the colliding crises of homelessness and mental health while nodding to voters’ concerns about public safety. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is embracing a similar approach.
The new strategies represent a remarkable shift in mental health policy, coming half a century after the U.S. began shuttering or downsizing state psychiatric institutions as liberal policymakers condemned the facilities as inhumane and conservatives sought to cut down on their exorbitant cost. Public officials and experts tie the policy shift to rising levels of homelessness that have intersected with the mental health crisis. More than 582,000 Americans are unhoused and an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. homeless population has a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Critics of the new policies argue that people who are unhoused and living with serious mental illnesses are more likely to be the victims of a crime than the perpetrators. Murders and shootings surged during the worst of the pandemic, and New Yorkers became fixated on whether they could take the subway without feeling threatened, said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. “There’s a relationship between chaos and crime in the eyes of voters,” said Sheinkopf. “The politics are governing the response, not great social policy.”