U.S. East & West Coasts Flirt With Incarceration Programs For Chronic Homeless

2 police constables interview a homeless man
police photo by özge çağla aktaş is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"Just a chat," as the man seated in this London U.K. picture explained to the photographer. If the police included a psych evaluation and institutional treatment recommendations, would the health care infrastructure be capable of responding to all the referrals?

Recently, considerable fuss has been generated in New York City concerning the involuntary incarceration of chronically homeless citizens, presumably in some unofficial and deniable category of ‘tremendous nuisance,’ and/or ‘frightener/threat to the passing public.’ Many, if not most of the details of how such a program might work are still undecided. How will such people be identified, assessed, temporarily arrested (or otherwise detained), so they can be removed from the streets1?

For some clarity on the issues involved in New York’s mental health interventions, California may provide insight. Similar kinds of involuntary mental health care are being contemplated for people who are chronically homeless in that state. Attempts to identify and provide involuntary mental health care are currently meeting headwinds, however. Activists are fighting back, suing to block the plans for California.

Other jurisdictions may be considering taking a similar approach to providing ‘compulsory’ mental health care for ‘street people’ in some kind of institutional framework. Current developments under way on both U.S. coasts may well be of interest.

For the latest news from California, read more in Politico: Groups sue to block Newsom’s CARE Courts program for severe mental illness

For further exploration of the rights of people who are living outdoors, try: No Camping! How U.S. Human Rights Give Recourse To Pushback From The Punished


  1. Try: Mental Heath Compulsory Tuneup Program For NY Homeless: Still Waiting