Public Advocate Calls For Non-police Mental Health Crisis Response And Support Services In Budget Testimony

March 9th, 2022

Press Release

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams today continued his call to address mental health needs and crises more holistically and by funding non-police alternatives in the city’s upcoming budget. He also emphasized the need for greater investments in city services for disabled New Yorkers. In testimony submitted to a hearing of the Committees on Health and on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction, the Public Advocate outlined several programs and initiatives that need expanded city funding to best serve the community.

“New Yorkers have experienced an unprecedented crisis over the past two years, with many in our city experiencing heightened stress and trauma,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams in his testimony. "Many have become newly disabled by the effects of long COVID. Combined with the high numbers of people who already needed mental health resources and treatment and accessibility services prior to the pandemic, it is critically important to prioritize accessible, affordable services for people with mental health needs and disabilities."

The Public Advocate pointed to the need and opportunity to expand several successful city programs that serve New Yorkers struggling with mental illness. He cited the successes of Mobile Crisis Teams, which provide non-police alternatives for New Yorkers experiencing acute mental health crises; and NYC Well, which provides support to prevent those crises in the first place. He also argued for more Respite Care Centers, which “provide an alternative to hospitalization for those in crisis… Developing a new center in an area with high volumes of 911 calls would provide these critical services to those who need them.” In addition to expanding already successful programs, he argued the city should create a three digit number for individuals to call for non-police alternatives for a New Yorker in crisis.

When police do engage with individuals in a mental health crisis, he called for a prioritization of Support and Connection centers, which he said “provide police officers with alternatives to arrests and hospitalization for people with mental health needs who do not pose a risk to public safety ... When police interact with people in crisis or people for whom mental health needs appear to be the cause of unusual behavior, police can bring them to these 24-hour diversion centers to receive services, and they will not be arrested or booked."

These calls build on the Public Advocate's 2019 report on mental health crisis response, which centered non-police alternatives.

New Yorkers with disabilities have faced disproportionate obstacles throughout the pandemic, and so the Public Advocate called for expanding “programs like NYC: ATWORK, an employment program that recruits, pre-screens, and connects New Yorkers with disabilities to jobs and internships, and EmpoweredNYC, which provides free and confidential financial counseling for people with disabilities.” He also asked for additional resources for children who lost access to disability services while quarantined at home.

The Public Advocate's full testimony is below.

TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL HEALTH COMMITTEE JOINT WITH

COMMITTEE ON MENTAL HEALTH, DISABILITIES AND ADDICTION

MARCH 9, 2022

Good morning, 

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. Thank you to Chair Linda Lee, Chair Lynn Schulman, and the members of the Committees on Health and on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction for holding this hearing today.

New Yorkers have experienced an unprecedented crisis over the past two years, with many in our city experiencing heightened stress and trauma. Many have become newly disabled by the effects of long COVID. Combined with the high numbers of people who already needed mental health resources and treatment and accessibility services prior to the pandemic, it is critically important to prioritize accessible, affordable services for people with mental health needs and disabilities. 

I request that New York City invests in expanding its Mobile Crisis Teams and NYC Well, allocating $26 million for 18 new teams and a 50 percent increase in NYC Well resources. The city should also invest $7 million for two new Respite Care Centers. Respite Care Centers provide an alternative to hospitalization for those in crisis. Offering stays for up to one week in supportive settings that allow individuals to maintain their regular schedules and have guests visit while receiving services that resolve crisis situations. Currently there are only eight centers operating in the city. Developing a new center in an area with high volumes of 911 calls would provide these critical services to those who need them. The city should also fund a three-digit number that New Yorkers in crisis can call to receive emergency mental health services from trained non-police providers.

HealingNYC directs government efforts to address the opioid crisis and provide substance use treatment. I recommend $5 million to expand this program. Support and Connection centers provide police officers with alternatives to arrests and hospitalization for people with mental health needs who do not pose a risk to public safety. When police interact with people in crisis or people for whom mental health needs appear to be the cause of unusual behavior, police can bring them to these 24-hour diversion centers to receive services, and they will not be arrested or booked. The budget should include $20 million for four new Support and Connection Centers. 

These investments will expand resources and services for some of New York City’s most vulnerable, who need them now more than ever—for example, Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul recently announced their plan to remove people experiencing homelessness from the subways, many of whom will need to be connected with mental health and substance use treatment services in addition to housing. 

With this new budget, New York City has an opportunity to prioritize its disabled residents, who face numerous challenges at work, school, in the community, and on public transportation. The city should expand programs like NYC: ATWORK, an employment program that recruits, pre-screens, and connects New Yorkers with disabilities to jobs and internships, and EmpoweredNYC, which provides free and confidential financial counseling for people with disabilities.

School- and preschool-age children with disabilities and other health needs experienced significant disruptions to their services due to the pandemic, with many not receiving any services to which they were entitled for many months or even years. The budget must specifically address early intervention services for young children with disabilities and fund compensatory services so children can begin making up for the time they have lost.

It is imperative that our city’s new mayor and City Council make those with disabilities and mental health needs a priority. For too long these New Yorkers have been overlooked and underfunded. I hope that we can work together to ensure that the budget reflects our commitment to the most vulnerable in our city. 

Thank you.

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