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‘Whatever It Takes’: The Street Teams Who Help Mentally Ill New Yorkers

Intensive mobile treatment teams meet mentally ill clients where they are. Chris Payton and Sonia Daley visited M in Lower Manhattan.

Chris Payton and Sonia Daley emerged from the subway into the brilliant sunshine to meet a client nesting on a pile of blankets near the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Manhattan.

It had taken their team almost five months just to track down the 43-year-old homeless woman, chasing leads from the police and other homeless people. On this afternoon last August, they were trying to help her find the holy grail: an apartment where someone with a severe mental illness could build a stable life.

The woman, M, flashed them a big smile. In her black baseball cap, long blond wig, oversize sunglasses and about 20 bracelets, she looked like a misplaced movie star.

M, who has schizoaffective disorder, immediately began chattering. She said she was doing great, thanks to Mr. Payton: “He gave me a million-dollar bill in cash, so I’m living off that.” Her boyfriend sat beside her, rocking and weaving, one gloved hand in constant motion as if conducting an invisible orchestra.

Photographs by Hiroko Masuike


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