Health & Human Services - Jul 06, 2022

A Roadmap for Helping People Who Are Homeless and Mentally Ill

Hundreds of people walked obliviously by Julian in his makeshift shelter daily. Wrapped in tarps and plastic bags on the corner of a busy Brooklyn intersection, the only obvious signs that Julian lived there were the smell–stale alcohol and urine–and his shoes.

Now in his 60s and having spent the better part of 18 months on this corner, Julian appeared gaunt, with a shrunken jaw and a toothless smile. He appeared at times to be talking to the voices in his head.

In addition to a diagnosis of schizophrenia and alcohol addiction, Julian suffered from severe osteoarthritis in his left knee and walked with a well-worn cane. Although Julian had “chosen” the street, he was not at all “safe,” and as winter came on, he was in danger of dying in the cold.

In December, New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a controversial directive to have police and others involuntarily remove mentally ill people from the city's streets and take them to hospitals. As he put it, “It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past them.” His announcement is just the most recent flashpoint in an ongoing debate about how best to provide crisis services for people with mental illness who are experiencing homelessness.

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