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De Blasio's NYC Safe program aims to treat mentally ill prone to violence

New York City Mayor de Blasio is seen

New York City Mayor de Blasio is seen in a file photo taken during a press conference on Wednesday July 29, 2015 at City Hall. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Teams of field experts will assess emotionally disturbed people prone to violence "where they are" -- on the streets, in shelters or in their homes -- and ensure they get proper treatment under a $22.4 million mental health initiative announced Thursday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The NYC Safe program creates a central hub at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice to share information among law enforcement, homeless services and groups providing clinical treatment, the mayor said.

De Blasio unveiled the initiative at a City Hall roundtable of reporters with his wife, Chirlane McCray, whose chief cause as first lady has been mental health services.

"Violence is not acceptable, and it is not acceptable to punish those who are sick when we know their condition is treatable," McCray said.

She added that "several hundred" meet the criteria of being mentally ill and violent. They represent a fraction of the population with mental health struggles, but have an "outsized" impact, she said.

NYC Safe is intended to help alleviate the city's increasingly visible homelessness, a problem de Blasio has said is linked to the lack of mental health resources. But the mayor emphasized Thursday that mentally ill individuals who hurt themselves or others include "people who are housed and people who are homeless."

The program will increase city Department of Homeless Services peace officers and clinical staff in high-need shelters.

The city's shelter population was about 53,000 in December 2013, the end of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term, and it is now at about 58,000, according to the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless.

The group's president and chief executive Mary Brosnahan in a statement applauded City Hall for launching a program from a "more informed and practical perspective," but cautioned its success depends on whether officials "commit the permanent housing resources to accompany and bolster the efficacy of these teams."

NYC Safe is among several steps de Blasio has taken to improve mental health services. His administration has already committed $323 million in new funding to mental health programs, and McCray said Thursday that she will announce additional initiatives in the fall that include housing for emotionally disturbed people.

De Blasio said the program will end "the revolving-door dynamic" where mentally ill people exhibiting violent behavior are taken to hospitals, but receive no follow-up, don't follow their treatment plans and may again hurt people.

Emotionally disturbed individuals will continue to be reported via 911, the NYPD shelters and hospitals, but the information gathered centrally will ensure the right services are provided, he said. People committing crimes will be enforced by NYPD, he said.

City workers may use "commitment authority" to send people to treatment against their will in some cases, said Dr. Gary Belkin, city Health Department executive deputy commissioner.

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