At the last New York City mayoral debate before the June 22, 2021 election, candidate Andrew Yang dropped a bomb about the homelessness problem in The Big Apple.
“Mentally ill homeless men are changing the character of our neighborhoods. A woman my wife Evelyn is friends with in her mom group in Hell’s Kitchen was punched in the face by a mentally ill man, sent a picture of her bruised face among the mom group and it spread like wildfire. This is happening in New York City and we’re not talking enough about it. And people are leaving as a result…
“We owe our people and our families better than this, and I’m frustrated by the political nature of these responses. We’re not talking about housing affordability. We’re talking about the hundreds of mentally ill people we all see around us every day on the streets and the subways. We need to get them off of our streets and subways into a better environment.
“If you ask me what I’m going to do differently, I’m going to rebuild the stock of psych beds in our city, because the number has gone down 14%. It should be going up 100% until there are resources necessary for anyone who is mentally ill. There will be no recovery until we fix this.”
“Yes, mentally ill people have rights,” Yang also said, “but you know who else have rights? We do: the people and families of the city. We have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out at us.”Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang, June 16, 2021
The new political spin on crime is to claim that anyone who breaks the law is mentally ill. In an era of hyper-sensitivity and victim-glorification, blaming the faultless foe “mental illness” is safer than criticizing people who use drugs, don’t work, and have generally low impulse control.
Yang is at least thinking outside the box, which was his appeal in the Democratic primary of the 2020 presidential election. If there is a solution to homelessness it’s likely to be found in harsher penalties for not only violence but vagrancy, panhandling, and the petty crimes that plague big cities.
Psychiatric and narcotic rehabilitation can pick where incarceration falls short (because of maximum sentencing laws).
If New York can figure out how to clean up its streets without violating constitutional rights, other cities will surely take notice.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, for his part, has overseen the $15 million purchase of the Gibson Medical Center and has voiced a need for 500 more beds for the homeless than we currently have.
“We have roughly 5,000 homeless people. It depends how you count them, it depends what you call them, unhoused, homeless, unsheltered, folks in need. At the end of the day, we know we need at least 500 more beds and that’s even more than this whole facility can handle.”ABQ Mayor Tim Keller
The question is whether or not Albuquerque can move from a place of sympathy and assistance to action and rehabilitation, because offering services without conditions has so far only increased the problem of homelessness.