NY Times Identifies 130 Violent Acts Committed by Mentally Ill Homeless People (and Most Could Have Been Prevented)

AP Photo/John Minchillo

There’s no official tally of how often a member of New York’s homeless population commits a random crime of violence but often when it does happen it makes news. We’ve written about some of these stories over the past year. For instance, here and here and here.

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The NY Times spent a year trying to identify all of the recent examples of such attacks and identified 130 of them within the past decade, all of them involving homeless people who were mentally ill. In 94 of those cases, the person in question had been released from a facility of some kind shortly before the crime.

The breakdowns occurred most frequently in the city’s homeless shelter system, which in recent years has spent more than $1 billion on dedicated mental health shelters but failed to reliably place mentally ill people in them. One man whose history of delusions should have landed him in such a shelter was instead placed in a general shelter last year before he deteriorated and stabbed three other homeless men, killing one of them.

Next were the city’s private and public hospitals, which have regularly discharged people in severe psychiatric distress. Private hospitals, in particular, have cut psychiatric beds to boost their bottom line. Public hospitals have repeatedly erred while being overwhelmed by nearly 50,000 psychiatric patients per year. At least some of the discharges documented by The Times appeared to violate a federal law requiring hospitals to stabilize patients before releasing them.

A network of special treatment teams was supposed to be New York’s solution for caring for high-risk, mentally ill people on the streets, but more than a dozen cases identified by The Times occurred on the watch of such teams. The failures took place as the state has starved the teams of funding, leading providers to pay caseworkers low wages and saddle them with staggering caseloads. Some teams spent just 15 minutes per visit with patients — the minimum amount of time required to bill Medicaid for services.

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So you have a breakdown at every level of the system designed to keep dangerous mentally ill people off the street. And the result is stories like this one from 2018:

Authorities say 62-year-old Maria Rios was attacked Sunday afternoon in the Longwood section after letting the suspect inside his grandmother’s residence.

Police say 45-year-old Marcus Gomez then grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Rios 40 times…

Gomez apparently left the facility in his pajamas and then later changed into his grandmother’s clothes because his were too bloody.

Purely by luck, the victim in that case survived. One of the stab wound came within a centimeter of hitting her heart. Gomez has schizophrenia and had been living at a psychiatric care facility but as he became increasingly deranged, hearing voices telling him to kill, the facility asked a nearby hospital to admit him. The hope was that the hospital would be able to stabilize his mental situation so he could return to the long term care facility. Instead, just hours after admitting him, the hospital released Gomez who went straight to his mother’s house. His mother has dementia and wasn’t even aware what was happening.

Similarly, the man who pushed Michelle Go in front of a subway train last year. The deranged homeless man who did it told reporters he was allowed to because he was god.

“Go f— yourself,” Simon Martial, 61, yelled at reporters as he was escorted out of the Midtown South precinct wearing a white Tyvek suit, a cloth mask, slippers and a jacket.

When asked if he had killed Michelle Alyssa Go, a 40-year-old Upper West Side resident, Martial copped to the ghastly attack, and claimed he was “God.”

“Yeah because I’m God. Yes I did. I’m God, I can do it,” Martial shouted to a gaggle of reporters, adding “she stole my f—ing jacket, that’s why,” when asked about his motive.

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Martial’s sister told the NY Post he had been on psychiatric meds for 20 years and gone in and out of hospitals.

Of course no one can predict when a mentally ill person is going to become violent but in the majority of the cases the Times looked at there were people who are trained to look out for these things who had all the reason in the world to believe these people were dangerous. And still they kept putting them back on the street with the rest of us.

In once case, a man named Jamar Newton attacked a stranger with a hammer back in 2021, allegedly for looking at him the wrong way:

Video captures a maniac striking a Manhattan straphanger on the head with a hammer, leaving the bleeding victim on the tracks — all because the rider looked at the suspect the wrong way, cops said Sunday.

“Don’t look at me!” the attacker barked at the 44-year-old stranger, who was waiting on the platform for the N/R line at Union Square Station around 9 p.m. Saturday, according to police.

Just a few months earlier, Newton had walked into a homeless shelter where he was evaluated. He told the person doing the intake that he had no history of mental health issues.

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She did not know his history — that he had been a bright kid from Maryland with a wicked sense of humor before bipolar disorder got the better of him. That he had cycled through jails and psych wards for years. That treatment notes obtained by The Times showed he had sometimes displayed “psychotic features” in prior years and had once told a counselor that he had “trouble controlling violent behavior.”

In Mr. Newton’s assessment notes, the worker rated the likelihood of his having a mental illness at zero. A psychiatrist who worked with the shelter system and sometimes made placement recommendations did not flag mental health issues either, noting that Mr. Newton had denied any psychiatric history. He was sent not to a mental health shelter but to a different type of shelter, run by the Doe Fund in Brooklyn.

Days later, Newton started screaming at people in the shelter and the police were called. He also made a threat to kill one of the shelter workers and still he wasn’t transferred to a shelter specializing in dealing with people who have mental health problems. Instead he was sent to another regular shelter where he once again attacked other residents. The attack on the subway platform happened about a month later.

Incidents like this aren’t limited to New York City. In March of this year I wrote about a deranged man who attacked a woman with a rock just minutes after being released from a psychiatric care facility. Clearly, this guy shouldn’t have been released and this is what happens over and over.

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There’s a lot more to the NY Times article but the bottom line is that the very expensive system we have now does not work and that failure results in people being attacked and killed at random by people who shouldn’t have been on the street. Here’s a local news report on the Portland incident.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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