Mental health advocates are calling for alternatives to the involuntary confinement of people who are in a mental health crisis amid a broader legal challenge to the policy announced this month by New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
The Mental Health Association of New York State in a letter on Tuesday to Gov. Kathy Hochul and Adams called for community support for resources, better pay for caregivers and the opening of more general hospital beds.
"Instead of using this as an opportunity to put individuals who are homeless and have mental health challenges in the back wards of hospitals, let’s have a common sense approach that does not criminalize mental health while still ensuring people feel safe in their communities," the group wrote in the letter.
The group is also calling for longer-term strategies to aid people who are struggling with mental illness, including a strengtehened workforce for caregivers, teaching about mental health in schools and using sports gambling revenue to expand mental health and community housing programs.
The letter underscores the unease mental health advocates have with Adams' plan, which he has defended as necessary to boost safety in the city and its mass transit system.
Expansions of measures like Kendra's Law, meant to involuntarily confine people contending with a mental health crisis, have been opposed by advocates amid worries they place an undue stigma on struggling people as well as put them in danger.
"The notion of blaming mental health issues as the major factor of homelessness and violence is a false equivalency," the letter from the group stated. "It does not take into account that there are people who are violent without a mental health concern or that they have significant mitigating factors involved like history of violence, family history of trauma, domestic violence and many other factors."