Ignoring mentally ill homeless people is a crime against society’s rights

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American cities have ­resolved that compassion for the mentally ill people living on our streets means ignoring them. This is a betrayal of ­society as a whole — and a catastrophic failure to lend help to those of our fellow citizens who need it most. 

Ed and Melissa (not their real names) have lived in Midtown since November. A homeless woman who camps out on their street corner defecates in the street and regularly berates passersby. 

A month ago, Melissa was leaving their home with their baby when the woman approached her and began to scream obscenities in her face. Ed was luckily across the street, so Melissa ran in his ­direction. The woman gave chase and threw a bottle at them.

This isn’t the kind of story that makes the news. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Police officers told the couple there wasn’t anything they could do, since there was no physical contact. But Melissa is now afraid to leave her home. 

“So what, big deal — you were screamed at”: So sneer liberals who otherwise insist that words are violence and hearing a wrong opinion can be so damaging and stressful as to require censorship.

Stories like Melissa’s happen ­every day. Who is helped by ­ignoring this woman? The neighbors are afraid to walk past her, and she sleeps rough even on the coldest winter nights, without getting the help she needs. 

It’s no triumph of individual ­autonomy or of compassion to abandon people who are too mentally ill to recognize that they need involuntary inpatient care.

And what about society’s rights? We are just supposed to step in urine, suffer verbal and sometimes physical abuse, navigate whole makeshift villages on crosswalks and in parks and generally look the other way when a human is suffering? 

Earlier this month, Upper West Side Together, a Facebook group dedicated to community safety, posted a call to action. “A median on the corner of 82/Broadway is currently housing a group of four-five males, one of whom required medical assistance yesterday. They are not new to the area and have been seen drinking, doing drugs, urinating, catcalling women and littering. Recently, they have started to accumulate items that block the space for pedestrians there.” 

A homeless person sleeps on 37th Street near 8th Avenue.
Stephen Yang

The accompanying photos showed office chairs and shopping carts, suitcases and lawn chairs. The men had turned the median into their living room. Why is this OK?

A few days ago, a homeless man stabbed another man on the Lower East Side. In Washington, DC, a homeless encampment has taken over Mount Vernon Park and brought a spike of crime to the area. 

In Venice Beach, the homeless population has swelled to 2,000 people “housed” in a giant tent city. Soledad Ursúa, the chairwoman of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, said people aren’t going out at night; police have advised keeping home windows closed to prevent crime. 

Where is the sanity to say none of this is normal or OK? Where is the honesty to say plainly that people sleeping in the streets is bad? This isn’t complicated.

A homeless man sleeps on a pile of dress shirts on 36th street near 8th avenue.
A homeless man sleeps on a pile of dress shirts on 36th Street near 8th Avenue.
Stephen Yang

And yet politicians rarely speak up. During New York’s Democratic mayoral primary, Andrew Yang said something obvious and true . . . that he then had to recant. He said, “Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else have rights? We do! The people and families of the city.”

We behave as if we are preserving some alternative lifestyle for the people living in the streets. But it’s hurting us all. Great rewards of population spikes and rising revenue await the first city to say no to tent cities taking over parks, no to allowing mentally ill people to harass people on the streets, no to people turning sidewalks into bathrooms. 

This is no way to live — for the sane and for the addicted and mentally ill.

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