Provide Mental Health Treatment to Vulnerable Homeless People

Target: Eric Adams, Mayor of New York City

Goal: Invest in and support resources for aiding the city’s homeless and mentally ill.

When Jordan Neely allegedly began shouting on a subway, what might have been dismissed as a routine occurrence on the train quickly escalated into tragedy. Within the hour, Neely would be dead and another passenger—Daniel Penny—would be detained. Penny, who had allegedly put Neely in a chokehold to restrain him, was later charged with manslaughter. The racial optics (Neely was Black and Penny is white) received immediate attention, but the disturbing details of this case have brought scrutiny to another (and often dismissed) societal issue: mental illness among the homeless.

Jordan Neely was once a promising celebrity impersonator, yet reported mental illnesses—ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to schizophrenia—soon derailed his dreams. Before his death, homeless advocates had put his name on a list of unhoused individuals in New York City who needed help most urgently. This man’s apparent struggles may have contributed to his seemingly erratic behavior and possibly escalated the subway incident.

Unfortunately, Neely is far from alone in his circumstances. Studies estimate that roughly one-quarter of the nation’s homeless suffer from at least one severe mental illness. In many cases, they are afflicted with more than one illness. Instead of supporting programs to help these individuals break free from a ruthless cycle, politicians instead have chosen to enact laws targeting—and even criminalizing—the houseless. And too often, police (often unequipped to deal with individuals in psychological distress) are left as the first line of defense and assistance in encounters involving the homeless…to sometimes disastrous results.

Sign the petition below to urge the city where this latest tragedy took place to chart a better course forward.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mayor Adams,

The tragedy surrounding Jordan Neely’s death should serve as the starkest warning about your plan to forcibly remove and involuntarily commit homeless individuals believed to be in mental health crisis. You said that “it is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past them.” And these individuals do indeed need a hand that helps–not one that grabs, detains, shoves…or chokes.

Law enforcement officers are not trained or equipped to interact in a helpful way with the mentally ill. Your proposal could quickly and dangerously escalate ordinary encounters when de-escalation is crucial. Experts with the training and the commitment to these issues—such as the Community of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry—have carefully detailed guidance for communities to address mental illness within the homeless population. They deploy resources such as street outreach teams with trained mental health professionals in a caring, impactful manner.

Please team with these advocates and create a new plan of action that can serve as a positive template for truly aiding this vulnerable and at-risk population.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Czum


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