December 21, 2022
New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s recent announcement that the city will institutionalize people who are experiencing homelessness or mental illness without their consent is harmful and inhumane. As a coalition of 14 national housing justice advocacy organizations, the National Coalition for Housing Justice (NCHJ) condemns this action, which is in direct conflict with our values for a more justice-oriented society. To achieve housing justice and end homelessness, we believe that policies should redress the ongoing legacy of colonialism and racism, and services should be trauma-informed, person-centered, and based on self-determination. Likewise, services should always be offered and participation should always be voluntary.
People with lived experience of involvement in our homelessness, criminal legal, and behavioral health systems continually voice the abuse and long-lasting trauma tactics – like Mayor Adams is enforcing – inflict. Using police and hospitals to involuntarily commit people and weaponize the mental health system is a response that is colonialist and racist at its root. This response is designed to control and hide the failures of our systems. What’s more is that tactics such as this disproportionately impacts Black and brown people with intersecting identities, like LGBTQIA+, immigrant communities, and young people.
Law enforcement is never the correct response to a mental health crisis nor are policing tactics appropriate responses to an individual experiencing homelessness. Effective and long-term solutions to ending homelessness should reduce harm, not invoke more. We need a sufficient supply of housing that is affordable to people with the lowest incomes, paired with policies that require compassion, choice, and healing through a safe and stable place to call home and access to voluntary services that are restorative. Anything less is an erroneous effort to simply remove people experiencing homelessness from the public view for political gain rather than ending homelessness out of genuine care for our unhoused neighbors.
This announcement was made by the city administration despite:
- Failing to support 96% of the 3,198 individuals and families whose encampments and shelters were demolished by the city since March;
- Documented evidence of the frequent trauma, harm, and implicitly ineffective and undignifying practices used by the police and in hospitals in New York City;
- A long, nearly uninterrupted history of advocates and communities protesting the under-funding of behavioral health systems and community-based services for children and adults nationwide and in New York City;
- Meeting only 16.6% of the city’s need for supportive housing, leaving 5 out of 6 eligible New Yorkers without the assistance they need;
- Having access to countless rigorous, visionary, and applicable alternative policies designed by people with lived experience to offer evidence-based alternatives to criminalization; and
- New York City having approximately 2,600 vacant supportive housing units that could provide an effective pathway to stabilization for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness who have mental health diagnoses.
The negative impacts this effort will have on people experiencing homelessness cannot be overstated and, due to the racist origins of the systems involved, will have disproportionate implications for Black and brown people. The intent to provide “care” to people who are unhoused under the guise that all unhoused persons experience severe mental instability is misguided, particularly when our health and housing systems historically weren’t created to provide care to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, but rather reinforce harmful and biased delivery of services (or lack thereof) rooted in white supremacy.
Mayor Adams’s announcement follows the path of California’s recent CARE Courts and other problematic legislation in states like Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas that essentially criminalize homelessness. It is part of an alarming trend of states and cities removing rights in the name of “safety” without providing true solutions, whereby people experiencing homelessness are portrayed as the perpetrators of crime, when instead they are far more likely to be victims. This false narrative further stigmatizes people experiencing homelessness and puts them in danger of being subjected to violence, or even death.
These strategies place the comfort of housed people over the lives and wellness of those who are unhoused. To truly end homelessness and housing instability, leadership at all levels need to include people who are most impacted in the crafting of solutions and policies. Instead of recycling failed policies and pursuing inhumane approaches, Mayor Adams and other elected officials should expand investments to ensure all people – especially those with the greatest needs – have an affordable, accessible place to call home and the supports they want to maintain stability.