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Violence and Disorder in New York’s Mental Health Shelters

Good morning. It’s Monday. Today we’ll look at the mental health shelters that struggle to provide services to some residents, including Carlton McPherson, who was charged in a fatal subway shoving last week.

Credit…Dakota Santiago for The New York Times

It was another in a recent spate of violent crimes on the subway: Carlton McPherson, 24, was arrested and charged with murder last week after the police said he pushed a 54-year-old stranger into an oncoming No. 4 train.

Before the fatal encounter, McPherson had stayed at specialized homeless shelters designed to help people with severe mental illness. In total, the city has 38 such facilities, with around 5,500 beds. The shelters cost the city about $260 million annually.

But interviews with residents revealed that those who stayed there received only sporadic mental health services, and a review of four years of records at the shelters showed that violence and disorder were commonplace.

The Times’s examination found:

  • Fifty people died in the mental health shelters from 2018 to 2021; about half of the deaths occurred after suspected drug overdoses.

  • Eight people staying at the shelters died by suicide.

  • More than 1,400 fights occurred. More than half of them resulted in serious injury.

  • More than 40 rapes, attempted rapes or sexual assaults were reported to have occurred inside the shelters.

  • More than 40 fires were reported at the shelters. Half of them appeared to have been set deliberately.

A spokeswoman for the Homeless Services Department said the agency tries to connect shelter residents with mental health services, but its primary mission is providing emergency housing.

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