There has been a rash of incidents in New York City subway stations that have ordinary people scared for their safety. Just last Friday, a homeless mentally ill man pushed a woman from the platform onto the subway tracks, She managed to climb to safety and the police arrested the perpetrator, but with crime in the city careening out of control, the mentally ill homeless problem has taken on a larger dimension.
Authorities are at a loss as to what to do about it. The truth is, it’s complicated. You can’t just snatch the mentally ill off the streets and put them in institutions unless they show they’re a danger to others or themselves. And usually, the only way you can prove that is if they try to kill someone. It’s a quandary that was created by the need to reform the inhumane way that the mentally ill had been treated for centuries.
But in our attempts to be humane, we have created a situation where people’s lives are threatened and the safety of the community is at risk.
The long list of subway assaults — from the 64-year-old man shoved onto the tracks at Union Square in February, all the way back to the Kendra Webdale tragedy back in 1999 — is scary. The perp is almost always an unstable person with a history of bizarre, ever-escalating behaviors.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio and city officials continue to turn a blind eye to the problem. Asked about the latest incident and how he planned to address the city’s mentally ill homeless problem, de Blasio droned about the supposed success of the ThriveNYC program — which in fact is falling short of meeting its service-provision goals.
ThriveNYC is the brainchild of Mayor de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, and her hubby managed to finagle $1.25 billion out of the city council to fund it. The program is supposed to have set up mental health centers all over the city and developed programs to deal with the crisis. It apparently is having trouble getting off the ground with a declining number of people seeking help at programs that were promised.
And yet, in the wake of the horrific subway attack, when asked what to do about the problem, de Blasio essentially said, “Talk to my wife.”
“I want to encourage anyone, if there’s someone in your life with a problem, pick up that phone and call 1-888-NYC-WELL so we can get the help that you need,” de Blasio said when asked at his daily press briefing about what ThriveNYC was doing to stop incidents like the one Friday on the N/Q/R platform in Times Square.
Yes, but what are you doing about the problem?
Despite being asked about it specifically, de Blasio did not address the shoving incident, and instead boasted that there’s been “a huge uptick in the amount of New Yorkers turning to Thrive across the spectrum” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it’s true that the hotline saw a 17 percent surge in calls at the height of the city’s coronavirus crisis, it still missed its annual target to actually connect people to services.
When asked about that shortcoming as tallied by his office, de Blasio said he wasn’t aware of it.
There’s a law, known as Kendra’s law, that can force the mentally ill to take the medication they require to stay well enough to live in normal society. In truth, the law only works when there are loved ones or caregivers around to encourage the mental patient to take it. And within days of going off that medication, a homeless patient can become a threat.
The solution has to include more facilities to incarcerate the mentally ill who won’t take their medication. They are time bombs waiting to go off in the middle of our communities and must be dealt with as we would deal with threats from anti-social criminals and drug addicts. The fact that they’re “sick” is very sad, but of secondary concern is the threat to the safety of all of us.