Andrew Yang speaks to media outside.

Andrew Yang’s Comments About Mental Health During the NYC Mayoral Debate Were Absolutely Terrible

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Yesterday was the final official Democratic primary debate for New York City mayor with Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Maya Wiley, Andrew Yang, Scott Stringer, Ray McGuire, Shaun Donovan, and Dianne Morales. What many people walked away talking about was Andrew Yang’s terrible comments on mental health.

As he was discussing the issues of homelessness, Yang recounted a story about a friend of his wife’s that was punched in the face by a mentally ill man in Hell’s Kitchen, and that incidents like this are “changing the character of New York City neighborhoods” and forcing people to leave the city. The neighborhoods he mentions as having been changed are East Harlem, the Upper West Side, and the aforementioned Hell’s Kitchen.

East Harlem, a.k.a. Spanish Harlem, is an area that underwent extreme gentrification in 2016 which led to Black families moving out and white families moving in, while surging the prices of homes in that area:

“Housing prices on the open market have soared 247 percent in the past 10 years. Typical prices for an apartment in Harlem now approximate $458 per square foot. And while rent stabilized apartments can range from $500 to $800, an unregulated market-rate apartment can reach up to $4.000 per month,” according to Humanity in Action.

The Upper West Side is one of the most affluent areas in Manhattan, which is not only majority white, but has a median income of $121,032.

Hell’s Kitchen used to be a working class area back in the OG days of Daredevil, but since the ’80s it was also gentrified and turned into a hot spot that Sex and the City fans would be familiar with, since Samantha moved there. Now, especially after the second wave of gentrification and the building of Hudson Yards, it is even more expensive than before.

So what I am hearing is that wealthy, safe, white areas are now dealing with the issues they thought they gentrified and zoned out of these areas. Yang says he is frustrated about the lack of acknowledgment of the hundreds of homeless people on the streets, but it sounds more like he is upset that they are in the way.

Yang wants to unstick the number of psych beds “100 %.” But what would the outreach be? Will there be mental health professionals to give them any kind of care? Or is this just a way of restore the gilded sheen over New York?

In response to the backlash of Yang’s comments, he clarified that the full context was discussing anti-Asian hate crimes, but not every person who has done that was homeless or had a mental illness. Some were just racist.

What frustrates me about Yang’s comments is that people seem to think “finding a bed for the homeless” so that they aren’t in the public eye is mental healthcare. It is not.

According to Coalition For The Homeless:

“The right to shelter was a very important step toward ensuring the safety of homeless people, but municipal shelters can be very difficult places to live for those people who have languished on the streets for years. They are tight quarters with many rules and regulations, which can be confusing. Nearly all municipal shelters for homeless single adults have barracks-style dormitories with as many as 100 beds in a single room, and these arrangements often do not suit the needs of homeless people living with serious mental illnesses like PTSD or mood disorders.”

Taking care of the mental health and homeless issues is a multi-pronged issue. Not every homeless person has mental health issues. Some have physical disabilities. Some have different ranges of mental health issues that will vary in treatment form short term to long term. Some have pets. Some have families.

There is a difference between wanting to help with NYC’s homelessness and mental health issues and just wanting to put them all in a psych ward and never see them on the subway again.

(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.