There’s a public policy debate in NYC about who should be first to interact with an emotionally disturbed person (EDP)—the department of homeless services (DHS) or the NYPD—and who should make the decision whether to involuntarily remove someone from the streets who’s suffering a mental-health crisis.
Time to stop debating.
DHS staff is better trained, equipped and qualified than the NYPD for this critical, frontline job: to determine whether a person is a danger to himself or others and should be involuntarily held for medical observation, diagnosis and treatment.
Turns out that DHS and private sector volunteers are already working together to help solve the mentally-ill homeless crisis, one needy person at a time.
Even famed civil rights attorney Norman Siegel (Google him) acknowledges that certain mentally-ill people should be involuntarily removed from the streets. Siegel co-founded the Street Homeless Advocacy Project (SHAP), a public-private partnership of 50 volunteers, DHS and the mayor’s office.
Since August 2022, one-third of SHAP’s nearly 500 “interactions” with the homeless have resulted in successfully persuading unsheltered people to voluntarily relocate from the sidewalks to a safe haven or welcome center. Anywhere but an unsafe, congregate city shelter, says Siegel.
Compared with SHAPS’ stats, homeless outreach providers contracted by DHS, have an only seven percent success rate.
Of course, even if the decision is made to involuntary remove someone from the streets, chances are they’ll soon be back.
At the corner of 125th and Lenox, I recently watched an EDP doing deep knee bends in a garbage can. A female beat cop was familiar with him. “We take him to the hospital and they release him,” she said.
A couple of avenues away, at the corner of 125th and Fifth, a man swung a cane at a passersby.
“We have only a minute or two to determine if someone is a danger to themselves or others,” added the Harlem beat cop. “DHS, not the NYPD, should provide the first point-of-contact with an EDP and decide if he or she should be involuntary removed from the streets and admitted to a hospital.”
Every Thursday night from seven to nine, SHAP’s homeless outreach teams fan out over several heavily-homeless areas: inside and outside the South Ferry Terminal; 31st Street between 6th and 7th Avenues; Penn Station; Tompkins Square Park; Union Square; West Harlem north of 125th Street, and the Grand Concourse in The Bronx.
“We de-escalate by asking people what they want and need,” explained Siegel who proudly notes that “we went three-for-three” at the Staten Island Ferry on May 18th. “Three interactions and three voluntary placements.”
Mayor Adams and acting DHS Commissioner Molly Wascow Park should re-assess their homeless service providers and, instead, seriously consider adopting the SHAP model.
Ken Frydman, former press secretary to Rudy Giuliani during his 1994 successful run for mayor and now a critic, is currently the head of PR firm Source Communications.