The murder of four homeless men in Chinatown over the weekend is a grim reminder of the link between untreated serious mental illness and violence.
People with mild anxiety disorders aren’t violent. People who receive effective treatment for psychosis aren’t violent. But Rodriguez “Randy” Santos is one who fell through the cracks of the system. He had been arrested more than a dozen times, including for assault, and reached a point of deterioration impossible to ignore by those who knew him. Men like Santos pose a serious threat to the community.
Many see in the Chinatown murders proof that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ThriveNYC program has failed. It’s a sensible conclusion. But an unserious program shouldn’t be tasked with serious problems. What is going to happen to more than 1,000 seriously mentally ill individuals in the jail system in the wake of the Close Rikers decarceration initiative?
Thrive has virtually no role in planning for this development, which ranks among the most important mental health challenges facing the city. Whatever the future may bring for Thrive itself, we probably need to be looking outside that program for real solutions.
Santos’ story is instructive. To his neighbors, family members and fellow homeless people, he showed many signs of his dangerousness and the severity of his illness. Dangerous people need government supervision.
For the mentally ill, government can provide both inpatient and outpatient forms of supervision, coupled with treatment.
Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal.
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