Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray just rolled out the third — yes, third! — iteration of the failed city mental-health program she’s run, ThriveNYC. To say that’s putting lipstick on a pig is an insult to pigs.
The program has blown through mountains of cash (some $1.25 billion since 2015) but proved so useless officials have had a hard time showing anything that it’s accomplished. Blowback has been so fierce de Blasio had to change its name once before, to the Office of Community Mental Health. Now it’ll be called Mental Health for All.
Please: The problem’s not the name; it’s that the program has failed to focus on individuals with serious, dangerous mental problems. That’s clearly intentional: After a hatchet-wielding maniac was caught on video whacking a man inside an ATM vestibule last weekend, Hizzoner stressed that violent, mentally ill people make up only a “very, very small percentage” of those with mental problems.
Yet just a day before the ATM attack, a man nearly shoved a straphanger onto the subway tracks in Times Square. In May, a homeless man randomly slugged an Asian woman in Chinatown. In February, a slashing rampage on the A train left two people dead and two injured.
Queens Councilman Bob Holden had it right: “Serious mental illness, left untreated, always gets worse.” It’s unfair to those who are sick, and it’s unfair to the public.
Eric Adams has vowed that as mayor, he’ll act swiftly to rein in crime, but seeing that dangerous mentally ill individuals get help and don’t threaten public safety is just as vital.
One move would be a huge mistake: keeping on homeless czar Steven Banks, as Adams has expressed interest in doing. Banks has overseen a mushrooming street homeless population that includes some dangerous people and many more that refuse help and would rather live in squalor. The problem is not that we don’t spend enough on social services, it’s that social workers and cops can’t insist people get off the streets.
What can be done? Beef up Kendra’s Law, which permits but too often doesn’t require the involuntary commitment of people who’ve become dangerous. More hospital beds are needed, too. And supportive housing. The late mental-health activist DJ Jaffe estimated that “nearly 9,000 homeless mentally ill could be moved off the streets and into supportive housing using the funds budgeted for ThriveNYC.”
They say the first step to overcoming mental illness is recognizing you have a problem. Well, the city has a problem with violently sick people who desperately need treatment. De Blasio may not recognize it, but the next mayor must.
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