Progressives Let Homeless Get So Ill, They Kill
Mental illness shouldn't be stigmatized, but leaving it untreated should be.
On a recent July afternoon in The Bronx, 19-year-old Franklin Mesa went up to Nathaniel Rivers, 35, who had just parked his car, and allegedly stabbed him to death in front of his wife.
Mesa’s family members described him as schizophrenic. Police said he was arrested last year for punching somebody, twice, in the face. And a neighbor said that he was often the source of “hostile, aggressive” situations, including preventing a woman from getting on the bus.
And yet it appears that nobody did anything to see if Mesa was taking his psychiatric medicine, which his sister said he had been on since he was 15.
Rivers’ horrifying death rekindles the national debate over how to prevent violence by the seriously mentally ill. Between 2015 and 2018, 911 calls reporting emotionally disturbed people have jumped by nearly 25% in New York City, while the number of homeless people with serious mental illness rose by the same percent.
Consider the case of Martial Simon, a 61 year-old mentally ill homeless man, who early this year confessed to pushing 40 year-old Michelle Go onto the subway tracks, killing her instantly. Simon, who was defended by the Legal Aid Society in 2017, is now at a psychiatric facility where he will remain until he’s found mentally fit.
The fact is, he should never have been released.
Simon had already been under the supervision of New York’s correctional authority until last August for two cases of armed robbery in 2017. His sister wanted him permanently hospitalized. “I remember begging one of the hospitals, ‘Let him stay,’” she said, “because once he’s out, he didn’t want to take medication, and it was the medication that kept him going.”
A homeless advocate who saw Simon’s medical records reports that Simon even told a psychiatrist in 2017 that it was only a matter of time before he pushed a woman onto the subway tracks.
“People with mental illness who harm other people usually do it because of paranoid delusions in which they fear for their own lives,” Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke told me. “They become convinced, based on psychotic delusions, that they need to kill to protect. What looks on the outside like pure aggression is often a deeply disturbed attempt to protect.”
Most people know this. We have been talking about this problem for years. And yet it only gets worse and worse. In 2021, felony assaults in New York’s subway were almost 25% higher compared to 2019, despite a lower ridership because of the pandemic. The number of people pushed onto tracks rose from 9 in 2017 to 20 in 2019 to 30 in 2021.
Why is that?
Why They Leave The Sick On The Streets
By now you’ve heard the story. We once had psychiatric hospitals in America. The conditions grew so bad that we shut them down. But we never fully funded the community-based mental health centers designed to replace them.
As a result, roughly one-quarter of all homeless by the 1980s had been patients in mental hospitals and one-third showed signs of psychosis or affective disorders, according to a major review of multiple studies from cities across the United States. Today, approximately 121,000 mentally ill people are conservatively estimated to be living on America’s streets.
But that story is missing an important element: what, exactly, has been going on since the 1980s? Why, in the 40 years since, have we not funded the community-based mental health centers, or built new psychiatric hospitals?