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Opinion | Helping Homeless People Who Are Mentally Ill

Admin By Admin Nov28,2023

To the Editor:

Behind Acts of Violence, Years of Mistakes” (front page, Nov. 21) effectively underscores the decades of neglect, underfunding and mismanagement that have made New York’s mental health system such a resounding failure for so many people in our city. But it also perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about people who are homeless and makes assumptions about the value of “mental health shelters” that do not comport with reality.

The breakdowns in the social safety net for people living with mental illness are indeed an urgent problem, but those breakdowns affect all people living with mental illness, not just those without homes. By focusing only on homeless individuals — and on what is statistically a small number of violent actions by some of those individuals — you are feeding into the misperception of homeless New Yorkers as deranged and dangerous.

In reality, as you note, individuals who are homeless are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of crimes.

While the legal right to shelter is critical to ensuring that thousands more people are not relegated to sleeping on our streets or in the transit system, shelters — including mental health shelters — are in no way appropriate settings for individuals with severe mental illness. In fact, our clients in those shelters often report that those environments exacerbate their symptoms, rather than support their needs.

Supportive housing has proved to be the most effective way of stabilizing homeless individuals with mental illness and other disabilities.

Dave Giffen
New York
The writer is executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless.

To the Editor:

As a New York City behavioral health social worker for the past 16 years, part of that time spent as the director of a Manhattan homeless shelter, I cannot thank you enough for this article. My experience trying to get adequate mental health support for shelter clients was nothing short of tragic.

Hostile first responders from the New York Police Department and Emergency Medical Services and flippant emergency room doctors often painted my colleagues and me as idealistic, naïve and unqualified bleeding hearts who failed to understand why they could not intervene in what one emergency room physician described as a “social problem,” versus a biological one.

There will always be a lack of resources in New York City, but a lack of accountability — for racial, cultural and socioeconomic biases — might be the bigger problem here.

Melissa Flanagan

To the Editor:

While our system for helping people with the most significant challenges is not perfect, and we as a city have a ways to go to make good on the promise of deinstitutionalization by delivering a robust continuum of mental health services, there are many bright spots and increasing evidence that what we are doing is working.

This article suggests issues with mobile treatment programs, for example, but they in fact have very high success rates in supporting people who have not been helped by any other programs, as is described in a May 7 New York Times article, “Someone in Their Corner.”

Furthermore, both city and state governments, and nonprofit providers, are creating new programs to fill gaps in the continuum of care. At the Institute for Community Living, we just launched a step-down program for individuals in mobile programs who are ready for less intensive treatment, helping clear the backlog of people waiting for a mobile treatment slot.

Earlier this year we launched another new program for people who are unhoused and cycle in and out of hospitals. So far, we have placed 93 percent of them in permanent housing in under 100 days. I believe that much of what we are doing is effectively meeting the needs of individuals with the most serious mental health challenges.

We should work toward a system where we do not fail a single person, but, unlike what this article suggests, failure is far from the rule.

Jody Rudin
New York
The writer is president and C.E.O. of the Institute for Community Living.

To the Editor:

Thank you to Thomas L. Friedman for his thoughtful series of columns about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His Nov. 26 column, “There Are More Than Two Sides to This War,” shows us complexities but also includes a simple, pure metric for discussing the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

It is a comment from Mansour Abbas, a Muslim and member of Israel’s parliament: “No one can accept what happened on that day. And we cannot condemn it and say ‘but’ — that word ‘but’ has become immoral.”

Equivocating liberals should take note. This is a profound statement, from someone who has a right to make it.

Candace Singer
Port Washington, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I’m upset when I hear well-meaning friends blaming Joe Biden for the horrors of the Israel-Hamas war as if he’s Lyndon Johnson bombing Vietnam or George W. Bush bombing Iraq, rather than blaming the man who’s bombing Gaza or the terrorists who attacked that man’s vulnerable country or simply feeling sad for the whole world.

This is for my Democratic friends:

1. Joe Biden is working for peace using whatever influence he has over the parties involved and deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

2. True diplomacy is complicated. I admit I know nothing about the complexities, but at least I know what I don’t know. Do you?

3. If the Democratic Party stays split over this war, we will wind up with a president who imprisons his enemies — possibly including you and me — and makes our country into a war zone fighting “the enemy within.” Please don’t minimize: The danger is real.

Cindy Glovinsky
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Mr. Mock presents as a caring, attentive, hardworking family man led amiss by Donald Trump’s shameless and amoral self-portrayal as a victim.

Mr. Mock is concerned about the effect of his thoughts and actions on his son, A.J. Mock. He made a mistake but he was maliciously misled. He neither warrants nor needs imprisonment.

He needs to be at home in discussions with his son and neighbors, engaged in straight talk, exchanging thoughts and feelings about how and why we arrived at this time and place. We need to hear one another and be given time to ask questions and then time to ponder answers before even beginning to consider action. Keep him free!

Paul Eric Rudder
New York
The writer is a lawyer.

To the Editor:

Re “We Can’t Afford to Keep Making Cheap Things,” by Yvon Chouinard (Opinion guest essay, Nov. 24):

A brief observation about an excellent commentary: It’s not our planet that’s at risk. It’s us. Our species. Yes, it’s true that if we persist in our behaviors, we’ll desecrate it, but planet Earth has demonstrated time and again that it has the capacities required to outlast the likes of us.

David Hill
Mill Valley, Calif.

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