MENTALLY ILL AND ALONE

February 27, 2019 at 4:30 am

An ambitious housing program offers afflicted New Yorkers a better life by moving them out of institutions and into private homes. Frontline, in partnership with ProPublica, investigates how this sudden independence has proven deadly. We have their findings.

Aired on February 26, 2019. 

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>>> GOOD EVENING.
WELCOME TO "METROFOCUS."
.
I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.
MENTALLY ILL AND LIVING ON THEIR
OWN.
BUT ARE THEY READY TO DO SO?
UNDER AN AMBITIOUS HOUSING PLAN
PROVIDED BY THE STATE, THOUSANDS
OF MENTALLY ILL NEW YORKERS ARE
OFFERED THE CHANCE TO MOVE OUT
OF ADULT HOMES AND INTO
SUBSIDIZED APARTMENTS.
BUT FOR MANY, THE SUDDEN SHIFT
TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE HAS PROVEN
TO BE HAZARDOUS AND DEADLY.
IN A NEW DOCUMENTARY, FRONTLINE,
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PROPUBLICA,
INVESTIGATES THIS FAULT AHOUSING
SYSTEM.
>> IT WAS A LAND MARK RULING.
THOUSANDS HAD A RIGHT TO LIVE ON
THEIR OWN.
>> THERE WAS A QUESTION WHETHER
PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN
INSTITUTIONALIZED CAN LIVE
SUCCESSFULLY IN THE COMMUNITY.
>> AND A RIGHT TO FAIL.
FRONTLINE AND PROPUBLICA
INVESTIGATES.
>> I HAD NO COMPANY, ACTUALLY.
>> THE QUESTION IS, WHEN DO YOU
TAKE AWAY SOMEBODY'S LIBERTY?
>> TUESDAY AT 10:00, 9:00
CENTRAL ON MOST PBS STATIONS.
>> HERE WITH MORE ON THIS
INVESTIGATION IS FRONTLINE
CORRESPONDENT JOAQUIN SAPIEN.
WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.
>> THANK YOU.
>> SO THIS WAS A DIFFICULT ONE
FOR ME TO WATCH, BECAUSE WE'RE
TALKING ABOUT SOME OF THE MOST
MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN SOCIETY.
SO EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE WHAT IT IS
THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT WITH
MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE IN ADULT
HOUSING AND THE SUBSIDIZED
HOUSING.
>> THE FOCUS OF THE STORY IS ON
RESIDENTS OF WHAT ARE CALLED
ADULT HOMES, WHICH ARE
ESSENTIALLY LARGE GROUP HOMES
SCATTERED THROUGHOUT THE
OUTSKIRTS OF NEW YORK CITY, AND
THEY WERE THE SUBJECT OF A
REALLY DAMNING SERIES OF STORIES
IN THE NEW YORK TIMES IN 2002
ABOUT HOW MISERABLE CONDITIONS
WERE.
PEOPLE WERE DYING IN THEIR ROOMS
DUE TO LACK OF AIR CONDITIONING.
THERE WAS A LOT OF MEDICAL
PROCEDURES THAT PEOPLE DIDN'T
NEED THAT OPERATORS WERE ABLE TO
PROFIT FROM.
ALL OF THIS RESULTED IN A
LAWSUIT THAT WAS FILED IN
BROOKLYN FEDERAL COURT.
IT TOOK A LONG TIME FOR THE
LITIGATION TO PLAY OUT, BUT
ULTIMATELY THERE WAS A
SENTLEMENT WHICH THESE PEOPLE
WERE OFFERED A CHANCE TO LIVE ON
THEIR OWN CALLED SCATTERED SITE
SUPPORTED HOUSING.
WHICH IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO
LIVE INDEPENDENTLY, THE SAME AS
ANYONE ELSE WOULD IN AN
APARTMENT WITH SOME SERVICES IN
PLACE.
THE IDEA IS THAT YOU'RE GOING TO
HAVE A WHOLE TEAM OF
PROFESSIONALS, EACH WITH THEIR
OWN DISTINCT AREA OF EXPERTISE
THAT'S GOING TO HELP YOU MAKE
THIS ADJUSTMENT INTO INDEPENDENT
LIVING.
WHAT WE FOUND IS THAT THOSE
SUPPORTS OFTEN FELL SHORT OF THE
NEEDS OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAD
MOVED, AND IN A NUMBER OF CASES,
THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO HAD SUCH
SEVERE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES THAT
IT WAS QUESTIONABLE AS TO
WHETHER THEY SHOULD HAVE THIS
OPPORTUNITY TO BEGIN WITH.
>> AND THAT SORT OF TIES INTO
THE TITLE OF THE FILM ITSELF
"THE RIGHT TO FAIL."
THAT SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN PART OF
THE SETTLEMENT WAS THAT NOT ONLY
DO PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO TRY
AND LIVE ON THEIR OWN, BUT THEY
HAVE THE RIGHT TO FAIL AT IT.
BUT THE FILM MAKES CLEAR WHOSE
FAULT THOSE FAILURES ARE.
>> THROUGH THE SETTLEMENT, IT
WAS DETERMINED THESE PEOPLE HAD
BEEN DEPRIVED OF THEIR CIVIL
RIGHTS, SEGREGATED FROM THE REST
OF SOCIETY AND FORCED TO LIVE IN
GROUP HOMES THAT THEY DID NOT
NECESSARILY HAVE TO LIVE IN.
AND THAT THEY HAD TO BE GIVEN
THE CHANCE TO SUCCEED, AND ALSO
THE RIGHT TO FAIL ON THEIR OWN.
10 THAT'S WHERE THE TITLE COMES
FROM.
YOU OFTEN HEAR IT DESCRIBED AS
THE DIGNITY OF RISK.
OBVIOUSLY, WITH PEOPLE AS
COMPROMISED AS THESE FOLKS,
THERE IS INHERENTLY GOING TO BE
SOME RISK INVOLVED WITH THEM
LIVING ON THEIR OWN.
WHICH IS WHY YOU NEED A STRONG
SUPPORT SYSTEM IN TACT, TO MAKE
SURE THEY SUCCEED.
>> TO SORT OF LAY BARE WHAT YOU
WERE FINDING AS TO WHAT WAS
GOING ON, THERE WAS SOME CASES
THAT YOU FOLLOWED VERY CLOSELY.
ONE THAT SEEMED TO BE THE MOST
ENGAGING WAS THAT OF A
GENTLEMAN, MR. BUNCH.
TALK ABOUT HIM.
>> WE WERE TOLD EARLY ON ABOUT A
PERSON NAMED NESTOR BUNCH, WHOSE
EXPERIENCE SEEMED TO REFLECT
MANY OF THE BIGGEST SHORTCOMINGS
OF PUBLIC HOUSING.
HE MOVED INTO A NUMBER OF
APARTMENTS OVER THE COURSE OF 15
OR SO MONTHS.
THE FIRST ONE, THE FIRST TIME
LIVING ON HIS OWN.
THIS IS A PERSON WITH SERIOUS
SCHIZOPHRENIA, WHO HALLUCINATES,
HEARS VOICES, WHO HAS NEVER
BEFORE LIVED BY HIMSELF.
AND HE MOVED INTO THIS APARTMENT
WHERE HE HAD TROUBLE KEEPING
ENOUGH FOOD STOCKED IN HIS
REFRIGERATOR, KEEPING UP WITH
PAYING BILLS, THINGS LIKE THAT.
AND HE FELL INTO A PRETTY
SERIOUS DEPRESSION.
HE BEGAN TO HAVE SUICIDAL
THOUGHTS.
HE WAS HOSPITALIZED FOR THAT.
AND THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN HIS
CARE, THE SOCIAL SERVICE
AGENCIES, DECIDED WHAT HE NEEDED
WAS TO LIVE WITH A ROOMMATE.
SO THEY PAIRED HIM WITH A MAN
NAMED BERNARD WALKER.
THAT PAIRING LASTED A MATTER OF
WEEKS.
NESTOR DISCOVERED BERNARD NAKED
IN BED DURING A BLIZZARD IN
THEIR APARTMENT BUILDING OUT IN
JAMAICA, QUEENS.
NESTOR SPIRALED AGAIN.
HE WENT BACK INTO PSYCHIATRIC
WARD A COUPLE OF TIMES, CAME
OUT, MOVED IN WITH ANOTHER
ROOMMATE.
THAT ROOMMATE FELT THAT HE WAS
BEING ASKED TO TAKE CARE OF
NESTOR.
AND HE WAS OVERWHELMED BY THAT
ASSIGNMENT, WHICH HE DIDN'T FEEL
HE DESERVED.
SO THEN NESTOR MOVED INTO ONE
MORE APARTMENT, AND THIS WAS
OCCUPIED BY A PERSON WHO ALSO
HAD SCHIZOPHRENIA, HAD A VERY
SERIOUS ALCOHOL PROBLEM.
AND ACTUALLY A HISTORY OF
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
AND AS IT TURNS OUT, NESTOR WAS
DISCOVERED IN THAT APARTMENT
VERY SERIOUSLY INJURED.
HIS RIBS WERE BROKEN.
HE HAD KIDNEY DAMAGE.
AND EVEN THEN THERE WAS AN
EFFORT TO KEEP HIM IN HIS OWN
APARTMENT, IN INDEPENDENT
HOUSING.
FINALLY, HE CAME OUT AND MOVED
BACK INTO A GROUP HOME, AND WAS
DISCOVERED ON THE STREET AGAIN,
OUTSIDE OF A POLICE STATION WITH
HYPOTHERMIA, AND SERIOUSLY
DELUSIONAL.
AND NOW HE'S IN SORT OF A --
HE'S BACK IN INDEPENDENT
HOUSING, BUT WITH MUCH MORE
SERVICES IN PLACE, AND HE'S
ACTUALLY DOING QUITE WELL.
>> SO I GUESS THE QUESTION
BECOMES, WHO IS REALLY
RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE PEOPLE
ONCE THEY'RE PUT INTO THESE
SUBSIDIZED APARTMENTS?
BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE NESTOR
WAS VERY MUCH ON HIS OWN.
>> THAT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT
QUESTION.
WHAT WE FOUND IS THAT
RESPONSIBILITY WAS DEFUSED
ACROSS SO MANY ACTORS, THAT
THERE'S AMPLE SPACE FOR FINGER
POINTING AMONG ALL OF THEM.
THERE'S ONE CONTRACTOR THAT'S
RESPONSIBLE FOR HOUSING.
ANOTHER CONTRACTOR RESPONSIBLE
FOR MEDICAL SERVICES.
THERE'S OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE
RESPONSIBLE FOR PSYCHIATRIC
CARE.
THESE APARTMENTS ARE NOT
ACTUALLY LICENSED BY THE OFFICE
OF MENTAL HEALTH, BUT THE OFFICE
OF MENTAL HEALTH DOES HAVE SOME
RESPONSIBILITY TO OVERSEE SOME
OF THESE SOCIAL SERVICE
AGENCIES.
SO THERE'S ALL THESE DIFFERENT
ACTORS, IT'S A DIZZYING ARRAY OF
PEOPLE WHO ARE EACH SUPPOSED TO
BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN
CORNER OF THIS.
WHAT HAPPENS IS, IT'S VERY
UNCLEAR WHO ULTIMATELY IS
ACCOUNTABLE WHEN SOMETHING LIKE
THIS GOES TERRIBLY WRONG.
>> ALL RIGHT.
FIRST OF ALL, THANK YOU FOR YOUR
REPORTING, BECAUSE I THINK THIS
IS A PROBLEM THAT WE TALK SO
MUCH ABOUT MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE
IN NEW YORK CITY, AND HOW BEST
TO TREAT THEM, ET CETERA.
BUT THIS IS DEFINITELY SOMETHING
MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT.
SO THANK YOU FOR YOUR REPORTING.
OF COURSE, WE'LL BE LOOKING TO
SEE IF SOMETHING COMES OF HAVING
THIS STORY NOW BROADCAST ON
FRONTLINE.
>> YOU'RE WELCOME.
THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
"RIGHT TO FAIL," GO TO OUR
WEBSITE TO FIND OUT LISTINGS.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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