Accused Subway Shover Found Little Help in New York’s Chaotic Shelters

Before Carlton McPherson was accused of fatally shoving a stranger in front of a subway train last week, he was placed by New York City into specialized homeless shelters meant to help people with severe mental illness.

But at one shelter, in Brooklyn, he became erratic and attacked a security guard. At another, he jumped on tables and would cycle between anger and ecstasy. At a third, his fellow residents said it was clear his psychological issues were not being addressed.

“That man needed help,” said Roe Dewayne, who stayed with Mr. McPherson at a mental health shelter in the Bronx. “If they were monitoring him like they were supposed to, this wouldn’t be going on.”

As New York has struggled to provide services for homeless mentally ill people across the city, its mental health shelters were supposed to help fill a crucial need, with on-call psychiatrists and social workers on staff to ensure that the thousands of people like Mr. McPherson were connected to treatment, and did not harm themselves or someone else.

The reality has been different, a New York Times examination of the shelters has found. Based on city records and interviews with shelter workers, residents and their family members, the review showed that mental health services have been offered only sporadically across the 38 specialized facilities, which were operated by city contractors at a cost of about $260 million a year. Episodes of violence, disorder and preventable harm, meanwhile, have become commonplace.

Fifty people died in the mental health shelters during a recent four-year period, records show. About half of those deaths occurred after suspected drug overdoses, when staff members found the bodies of men and women slumped on bathroom floors, next to empty pill bottles or in bed with foam coming out of their mouths. Eight people staying in the shelters killed themselves.

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