Involuntary hospitalization proves systemic failures

MHA Admin

Thu, 04/06/2023 – 11:42

By Kelly Davis, MHA Associate VP for Peer and Youth Advocacy and Debbie Plotnick, MHA Executive VP of State of Federal Advocacy

Since New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ November directive loosening requirements to allow involuntary hospitalization of unhoused persons who shows signs of mental distress, other cities and states have expressed interest in similar initiatives as means to reduce crime. While Mental Health America commends leaders for recognizing the need for mental health services for an often-overlooked segment of the population, involuntary hospitalization initiated by city workers, such as law enforcement, is not a solution; rather, it represents large failures of policy, practice, and community resources.

The apparent reason for allowing police and others to initiate involuntary commitment of unhoused people with perceived mental health needs is the widespread, but erroneous, belief that the rising crime rates in cities across the nation are largely attributable to people experiencing mental illness. While there have been some widely reported tragedies, studies have repeatedly proved that most acts of violence are not committed by people with mental illness. Instead, research shows that people with mental health conditions, including unhoused individuals and those in shelters, are often the victims of violent acts.

Mental Health America believes that this complex issue will not be solved with an oversimplified or overreaching policy.

The reality is that this policy approach, which unfairly targets unhoused people with mental illness, can cause more harm than help by putting them into cycles of hospitalization and creating unnecessary police interactions. This can be traumatizing, and even deadly, for people with mental illness, especially those in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and Disabled people. Being in distress and unhoused is not a crime. Yet, these interactions can mean transport in the back of a police car, usually in handcuffs, making the person feel like a criminal, not someone needing care.

Unhoused people with mental illness may want or need help. But involuntary commitment, let alone repeated commitments, is often a policy failure of years of unmet needs, a lack of housing, and unavailable supports. Many frame this and similar policies as the “compassionate” option, and we do not discount their empathy. However, investing in coercive approaches that still fail to address people’s comprehensive, sometimes even basic, needs is not compassionate.

Instead of relying on this last-resort method of “treating mental illness,” energy and resources would be better spent on upstream prevention and engaging resources, including housing, equitable community-based services, and peer and street outreach.

Unsurprisingly, experiencing homelessness exacerbates mental illness, which is why policymakers should first consider evidence-based supportive housing policies. When people have a safe place to live, they are highly likely to engage in treatment services that help them stay in the community.

Peer support specialists and street outreach should be prioritized over law enforcement encounters and coercive measures. These providers are specially trained individuals who share experiences, such as living with a mental health condition or have experienced homelessness. Peer support specialists offer connection, provide emotional support, teach skills, provide practical assistance, and introduce people to resources and other support communities.

The model of using peer support has proven to better engage people in resources that meet their mental health needs and lessen the number of readmissions and overall days an individual spends in the hospital. It also frees law enforcement officers for other duties, and empowers people experiencing homelessness to reclaim their lives.

Communities should expand successful programs like the Intensive and Sustained Engagement and Treatment (INSET) program offered by Mental Health Association of Westchester in New York, which successfully utilized peers to engage people with the same level of distress as those who are being involuntarily committed. Inpatient cost savings with INSET services range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to well over a million dollars.

Charlotte Ostman, CEO of MHA of Westchester, told us, “Our INSET staff first began to work with one young man when he was staying at a drop-in shelter, having been picked up by police numerous times for trespassing due to homelessness. He is now a resident of a shelter, awaiting permanent housing.” She went on to say that this individual had 33 ED visits in the year prior to INSET but has had only seven such visits. As a result of the program’s unique peer approach, he was able to voluntarily engaged in the resources that meet his needs.

In this unique time of bipartisan support for mental health services and attention to people that are homeless, we call for lawmakers and policymakers to address the underlying issue: the lack of access to mental health care and substance use treatment. Prevention, early intervention, a full continuum of community-based care, and safe places for people to live are the only real solutions.


The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Gunshot Victim
Life Threatening Wounds
Physical Assault Victim
Severely Injured Auto Accident Victim
Burn Victim
Choking & Breathing Obstructions
and more…


Child Sex Assault Victim
Domestic Violence Victim
Drug Overdose
Rape/Sex Crime Victim
Suicide Watch
Trafficking Victim
Nervous Breakdown
and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer/Graphics Training
  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
  • Hospitality Training
  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
  • Violence De-Escalation Training
  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
  • Meal Prep

Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: