By Andy Newman
On the coldest night of the winter, Mazou Mounkaila was sleeping under an overpass in the Bronx when the ambulance crew arrived.
The wind chill was minus 4 degrees. Paramedics and homeless-outreach workers told Mr. Mounkaila he had to go either to a shelter or a hospital. Mr. Mounkaila, a courtly former warehouse manager from the West African nation of Niger who has been homeless for about a decade, declined to do either.
But he had no choice. The police showed up. “To my surprise,” Mr. Mounkaila said, “they handcuff me.” He spent the next 104 days at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx being treated for schizophrenia.
Mr. Mounkaila, 59, was hospitalized under a contentious policy Mayor Eric Adams rolled out last fall to address a homelessness crisis unraveling in plain view on the streets of the nation’s biggest city.
The mayor’s directive calls for the police, paramedics and groups that work with homeless New Yorkers to send people to hospitals when mental illness leaves them unable to “meet basic living needs,” even if they’re not threatening to hurt themselves or others.
It has met with criticism and a legal challenge. But one social-service agency in the Bronx that has been sending people to hospitals says the policy is yielding encouraging results, thanks largely to more diligent and longer-term hospital treatment.
As American cities struggle to turn back a rising tide of homelessness, New York is part of a broader movement to reconsider longer psychiatric hospital stays, half a century after mental institutions that had become brutal warehouses of humanity were emptied but never replaced with a coherent system of care.
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