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Chaos in NYC mental health shelters exposed after subway tragedy

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In the wake of a tragic incident involving Carlton McPherson, accused of fatally shoving a stranger onto subway tracks, revelations about the inadequacies of New York City’s specialized homeless shelters for those with severe mental illness have come to light.

McPherson, previously placed in one of these specialized shelters, encountered a series of challenges. In one instance in Brooklyn, he assaulted a security guard, while at another location, he exhibited erratic behavior, oscillating between anger and ecstasy. Despite being in the care of these facilities, his psychological needs remained unaddressed, as testified by fellow residents who witnessed his struggles firsthand.

Roe Dewayne, a resident of a mental health shelter where McPherson stayed, lamented the lack of proper monitoring and support, emphasizing the tragedy could have been averted with adequate intervention.

The New York Times investigation into these shelters revealed a grim reality. Despite a budget of approximately $260 million annually, mental health services were inconsistently provided across the 38 specialized facilities. Instead of being havens of support, they became hotbeds of violence, disorder, and preventable harm.

Over a four-year period, records documented 50 deaths within the shelters, with alarming instances of suspected drug overdoses and suicides.

More than 1,400 fights erupted, resulting in serious injuries, while reports detailed incidents of rape, sexual assault, theft, and criminal activity, both inside and around the shelters.

Even more distressing were the occurrences of fires, deliberate or accidental, and prolonged disruptions in essential utilities like heat, water, and power, which left residents vulnerable and exposed to further risks.

Despite decades of existence, mental health shelters have failed to provide adequate care and safety for their residents. With a recent expansion, accommodating approximately 5,500 individuals, the urgent need for reform and increased oversight within these facilities is undeniable.

The city’s collection of data on shelter incidents from 2018 to 2021 highlights the magnitude of the crisis, with over 7,400 serious incidents reported during this period, including accidents resulting in life-threatening injuries.

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