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How Safety Net Flaws Led To 94 NYC Cases Of Violence By Homeless

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Marcus Gomez, a homeless man who had long lived with schizophrenia, started hearing voices. Then he stripped off his clothes and stalked through the halls of his transitional housing program and said voices were telling him to kill the program’s staff.

The program had him hospitalized, but he was released, and he stabbed a home health aide to his grandmother. “My mind made me do it,” Gomez told police.

His shocking act of violence was unusual, but the circumstances that allowed it to happen were not, the New York Times reports.

For years, the social safety net intended to help homeless, mentally ill people and keep them from unraveling violently has failed in glaring and preventable ways. Rather than be held accountable, a Times investigation found, city and state agencies have repeated the same errors again and again, insulated from scrutiny by laws that protect patient privacy but hide failings from public view.

Violent attacks by homeless, mentally ill people are relatively rare, but each act of violence, such as every subway shoving, stabbing or slashing, can shake the city’s psyche.

The 2022 killing of Michelle Go, a 40-year-old financial consultant who was shoved in front of an oncoming subway train, stirred public outrage and led to official promises of reform. The man who killed her had been hospitalized at a state psychiatric facility and released despite signs that he was still delusional. It was the same kind of institutional breakdown that has preceded scores of other attacks.

Times reporters spent more than a year examining how often homeless mentally ill people under the care of the city have committed acts of violence. The newspaper identified more than 130 acts of violence in recent years by people who were homeless and mentally ill.

Reporters conducted more than 250 interviews, obtaining tens of thousands of pages of confidential treatment records and visiting courthouses, jails, prisons and a psychiatric ward. The lack of public information made it difficult to evaluate about a quarter of the cases.

The examination identified 94 instances in the past decade in which breakdowns of the city’s social safety net preceded the violence, sometimes by just days or hours.

The review focused on major elements of that safety net — a patchwork of homeless shelters, hospitals and specialized teams that was stitched together after the state began closing notorious psychiatric institutions in the 1960s.

It found a widespread failure by the agencies to share information, even though the state created a detailed database for that purpose. It found a pattern among the agencies of taking the narrowest possible approach to care, and an unwillingness on the part of city and state officials to fund crucial programs fully, leading to understaffing and harried treatment.


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