Taking homeless into custody: Is NYC Mayor Adams right?

Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA / Newscom

Fact Box

  • On November 29, 2022, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that authorities would advance their outreach to homeless people under a “moral obligation” through involuntary hospitalization. The city is beginning training for first responders to provide “compassionate care” for the removal of persons showing mental illness in public places. 
  • In the O’Connor v. Donaldson case, the US Supreme Court ruled that “a State cannot constitutionally confine, without more, a non dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends.”
  • The Coalition for the Homeless reported that in “City Fiscal Year 2022, the average length of stay in the DHS shelter system was 509 days for single adults, 534 days for families with children, and 855 days for adult families.” 
  • According to a Rasmussen Report, the majority of Americans believe homelessness is a “serious problem” that has become worse due to government policies.

Suzanne (Yes)

Next to Californian cities, notably San Francisco and Los Angeles, New York City has one of the highest homeless populations in the nation, numbering well above 70,000 since 2019, with the highest estimate putting it over 100,000. Due to the toll this crisis is taking on the famous island city, Mayor Adams was right when he proclaimed that “if severe mental illness is causing someone to be unsheltered and a danger to themselves, we have a moral obligation to help them get the treatment and care they need.” 

Historically, America made a huge mistake when it eradicated the use of long-term-care mental hospitals in the 20th century. With the absence of family or community to care for the mentally unstable in place of these closed psychiatric asylums, those with mental illness were relegated to living their days homeless, prone to criminal victimization (such as brutal homicide), and increased substance abuse. The failure of states to care for some of the most vulnerable in society has led to further abuse of themselves and others, and it must be addressed by the authorities. 

NYC is already plagued by rising crime, including several horrific subway attacks on unsuspecting citizens perpetrated by the homeless. And contrary to public thought, no one has a right to be homeless, otherwise referred to as “public camping.” Homelessness and large encampments damage public property, decrease private property value, obstruct businesses, and lead to increased health risks, including open-air drug use, public overdoses and death, publicly discarded needles, and dangerous or repeated criminal activity. It’s time NYC and America at large restore public order and put an end to the rising homelessness issue.

Andrew (No)

Simply put, homelessness isn’t a crime, and NYC mayor Eric Adams is wrong to pursue a policy that forcibly detains individuals who have to live on the streets. In December 2019, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s Martin v. City of Boise ruling, which effectively decided that fining or jailing an individual experiencing homelessness violates the Eighth Amendment. The leading cause of homelessness in NYC is a lack of affordable housing, and there are many useful things the Mayor could do to ease this root cause, but locking people up isn’t one of them.

Though it is a laudable goal to find secure places for all individuals to live, there are many legitimate reasons why individuals may not want to be forced into the system. Past traumas, distrust of the state, language barriers, and substance abuse/dependency issues may all be causes for some individuals to avoid shelters. At the end of the day, however, it is up to individuals to decide if they want to accept help from the state or charities. It is simply wrong to force it on them.

Finally, the police are simply not trained to deal with these situations. Black Americans experience a higher rate of homelessness in NYC, and in recent years police officers have frequently used excessive force and have caused real harm to this population. Further, there are high rates of mental illness amongst people experiencing homelessness, another area where police are not trained and have a poor track record of actually helping. Mayor Adams has shown a great interest in combating his city’s growing problem of unhoused people; unfortunately, his methodology is wrong.

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