New York must open Crisis Stabilization Centers: People in Mental Health throes need immediate help

Rev. Patrick O’Connor is the co-chair of Queens Power, a citizens’ power organization affiliated with Metro Industrial Areas Foundation.

The killing of Jordan Neely highlights the problem when people with mental health challenges are unable to get help from the government. Will anything change?
I’m a pastor and leader in Queens Power/Metro IAF. I have met with the governor several times to press her administration to create crisis stabilization centers. These diversion units, staffed and equipped, would provide immediate help to someone in the throes of a mental health episode. We have also spoken with high-ranking NYPD personnel about the same need. They expressed powerful support for the idea.
Although no one is against this much-needed improvement, only two of these units operate in the entire city—none in Brooklyn or Queens. Lost in a blizzard of policy papers, budget negotiations, personality clashes, and political crosscurrents, issues like this remain unsolved.
But I’m a working pastor committed to serving a congregation in Jamaica, Queens, and I don’t have that luxury. Neither do my staff members. Three weeks ago, with no warning, someone stabbed the security guard at my church in the chest. He bled profusely, but prompt volunteers, NYPD, EMT and medical professionals saved him. The assailant, experiencing a mental health crisis, refused to put his weapon down and the police shot him. Thankfully, he will survive.
When the powers that be in Albany and City Hall refuse to build the network of stabilization and care centers desperately needed in our city each day of exposure to life-threatening incidents, like suicide, overdose and other violence.
When we met with the governor in February, she and her staff said they would be announcing a new set of crisis stabilization centers “soon.” When we pressed them to tell us what “soon” meant, they refused to be specific. We described our interest in such centers to the NYPD and top brass said they planned to take it up with City Hall. They believed this important development could improve the lives of all New Yorkers, including first responders. We haven’t heard a peep from either party since.
“Soon” wasn’t soon enough for Jordan Neely. It wasn’t soon enough for the security guard who nearly lost his life protecting my staff members. It wasn’t soon enough for the gentleman with the knife, who clearly needs intensive care and treatment.
Miami Dade County and San Antonio have pioneered full-spectrum crisis stabilization and care for two decades. Since 2017, New York’s Dutchess County has been home to a Crisis Stabilization Center. It now includes forensic mobile crisis response teams and peer-led respite centers. The center serves over 5,000 people a year from eight counties and diverted 25,000 days of psychiatric hospitalization. Surely we can do the same here.
The new state budget includes $1 billion dedicated to expanded mental health care and treatment, however, it is unclear if crisis stabilization units are part of that package. With that amount of money, along with the federal money already given to the state for mental health priorities during COVID, centers could be placed in every borough.
Until then, as we have written in the past, emergency rooms and jails remain the default destinations when police consider a person struggling with mental illness a threat.
“It’s getting late early,” as the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said. The governor and the mayor dither. The city slowly burns, and I, like so many citizens of this great city and state, do a slow burn. The lack of leadership and urgency at almost all levels of government exposed my staff and the profoundly troubled perpetrator to nearly fatal harm. Politicians should forget the expressions of concern and their mad dashes to emergency rooms. Create and staff the crisis stabilization centers that will help make New York a safer and more humane city again.
Jordan Neely is dead. Let him be the last.