U.S. mayors meet in Washington to tackle mental illness, immigration

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) - Mayors from across the United States gathered in Washington for their annual winter conference this week to tackle major issues facing their cities, with mental health, addiction and mass migration high on their lists.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, mayors have been on the front lines as their cities struggle to revitalize business districts decimated by a shift to working from home and confront an explosion in mental illness and economic woes.

Mayors from Tampa, Florida, to Tacoma, Washington, were meeting with federal officials including President Joe Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to discuss their concerns and collaborate on solutions.

Their long to-do lists also include reducing crime, invigorating local economies hurt by inflation and getting citizens in psychiatric crisis the care they need, attendees at the bipartisan United States Conference of Mayors meeting said on Wednesday.

The related crises of mental illness and drug abuse have skyrocketed in the United States, with fentanyl-laced drugs now killing tens of thousands of Americans annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mayors are determined to tackle the suffering they see on their streets, said Reno, Nevada, Mayor Hillary Schieve.

"That is the No. 1 issue in every city," Schieve, an independent, said at a news conference, adding that she personally wanted to see an end to "treating jails as mental health hospitals."

City leaders also cited immigration as a major challenge, as migrants continue to come across the U.S.-Mexico border, with many of them put on airplanes or buses by Southern states and taken as far north as Boston. That has forced local agencies in those cities and near the border to provide temporary shelter and help them connect with contacts in the States.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said he is concerned that Congress members are too wrapped up in the politics of immigration to deliver the comprehensive reform he thinks is needed.

"My fear is that the political benefits of pointing at the problem exceed the benefits of actually solving the problem," the Democrat said. "And we as mayors have to solve problems."

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Jonathan Oatis)