For decades, the city has been battling with growing mental illness and substance abuse crises, which the pandemic has only magnified. In recent months, our mental health is declining and overdoses across the city are rising. I’ve personally seen the toll that these conditions can take on families and communities. My experience isn’t unique. Most New Yorkers know someone who struggles with substance abuse or mental health challenges, if not both.
To overcome these, we need to move beyond conventional solutions and adopt innovative strategies that focus investments where they’ll have the greatest impact. In my experience leading our nation’s response to homelessness under President Obama, as well as emergencies like the housing crisis, Hurricane Sandy, and the Ebola outbreak, I’ve witnessed the trauma crisis can bring, but also the impact government can have when it pursues creative, forward-thinking solutions like the ones our city needs today.
In rebuilding our health, we must start by establishing the city’s first Safe Use Community Centers, taking substance abuse off the streets and making treatment options more accessible. Similar centers outside the US have been shown to lower drug-related deaths, ambulance calls and HIV infections, all without increasing crime, injection drug use or return to use.
Since reluctantly caving to advocacy group pressure, City Hall has made little effort to launch Safe Use Centers or fight legal opposition from the federal government. However, earlier this year a district judge determined that a similar facility could be opened in Philadelphia, removing a significant barrier.