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The de Blasio administration announced Dec. 23 a $21-million spending plan to help those with serious mental illnesses who are at risk for committing acts of violence, including the expansion of mobile treatment teams that connect homeless people with mental health services.

More than $9 million of the funding will go to the expansion of the mobile teams, which were launched in 2016 as part of First Lady Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC initiative. In order to refer more residents to treatment, the city will train more staff at the Department of Homeless Services, NYC Health + Hospitals, and other agencies where employees come in contact with those who have serious mental illness, to connect people with services.

‘Obligation to Address’

“We have an obligation to address our broken mental health system and do all we can to connect people who are struggling to treatment,” Mayor de Blasio said. “That includes the small percentage of those with mental illness that, left untreated, are at risk of committing violence against themselves or others.”

The administration will also invest $11 million towards creating outreach teams within NYC H+H in order to provide resources for the mentally ill who frequent emergency rooms. Additionally, the city plans to create an interagency coordination team between the public hospital system and DHS in order to smoothly transfer services provided to homeless people experiencing mental-health issues.

“Through close partnerships, innovative approaches, and new proactive interventions, we will continually enhance our efforts to support New Yorkers in need, from addressing housing crises to resolving mental health challenges through a holistic range of services,” said Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “As we all work together to close gaps in programs and strengthen our safety net for all, we are determined to keep doing better by those we serve, as well as those who may need our services, but may not be ready to accept assistance yet.”

NYC H+H CEO Mitchell Katz said that as the city strengthens its safety net for people with serious mental illnesses, “a coordinated approach to behavioral health care is critical.”

“Constant communication between all agencies who serve this population, will ensure that they receive the necessary care and services they need and deserve,” he added.

Help 900 More a Year

The city estimated that about 900 additional people each year would begin receiving treatment thanks to the changes. The funding will also go to hire more staff at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to process the higher number of mental-health referrals expected from the reforms. The administration projected that referrals would increase by about 20 percent.

More Social Workers, Housing Specialists, and legal-assistance staff will also be hired.

The changes were announced after the Police Department and DOHMH conducted a review of how the city uses Kendra’s Law, which allows judges to order mental health treatment for individuals against their will. The review was prompted by the October murders of four homeless men in Chinatown, allegedly by Randy Rodriguez Santos, who had a history of mental-health issues and had previously been arrested several times for violent incidents.

Nearly 2,500 people last year required treatment under Kendra’s Law, a 27 percent increase since 2014. As part of its initiative, the de Blasio administration plans to boost the number of court-mandated treatments.

Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy at Coalition for the Homeless, called the Mayor’s plans “a mixed bag.” While she supported the use of mobile treatment teams, “expanding the use of court-ordered treatment using Kendra’s Law is not the answer to homelessness—in fact, the vast majority of people with assisted-outpatient treatment orders have no history of homelessness at all,” she said.


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