The places most troubled by this, New York City and California, are trying to find an answer. Both have enacted policies aimed at people who are homeless and suffering from a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia. Yet they differ in important ways. Last month Eric Adams, the Democratic mayor of New York City, instructed police and first responders to hospitalise people with severe mental illness who are incapable of looking after themselves. Mr Adams’s plan is a reinterpretation of existing rules. Law-enforcement and outreach workers can already remove people from public places if they present a danger to themselves or others. But now, the mayor stressed, people can be hospitalised if they seem merely unable to care for themselves. “It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past them,” Mr Adams proclaimed.
The mayor’s plan follows a policy change on the opposite coast. At the urging of Gavin Newsom, California’s Democratic governor, the state legislature passed the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (care) Act in September , creating a new civil-court system aimed at directing the mentally ill and homeless to treatment and housing. Patients can be referred to care court by police, outreach workers, doctors or family members, among others.
Acceptance into the system means court-ordered treatment for up to two years, after which patients can “graduate” or, potentially, be subjected to more restrictive care, such as a conservatorship. California has been quick to try to distance care court from New York’s apparently more punitive response. “It’s a little bit like apples and giraffes,” says Jason Elliott, Mr Newsom’s deputy chief of staff. “We’re both trying to solve the same problem, but with very different tools at our disposal, and also really different realities.”
What is the most humane way to help unsheltered people suffering from severe mental illness? New policies in NYC and California revive an old debate.
A bicoastal take from me and @Rosemarie_Ward: https://t.co/tgYISlQNUP
— Aryn Braun (@arynbraun) December 20, 2022