Many homeless people hide from the eyes of the world. They shuffle quietly through the streets by day, talking to their voices only when they think nobody is looking and they live in shelters or abandoned buildings at night. Some shelters become known as havens for these mentally ill wanderers and take on the appearance of a hospital psychiatric ward. Others live in the woods on the outskirts of cities, under bridges, and even in the tunnels that carry subway trains beneath cities. They are ghosts to the majority of society and, as a result, there are many more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on America’s streets than are receiving care in hospitals.
Who are the homeless?
Homelessness affects persons of all ages and races, according to an article from the April 2014 Journal of American Academy of Family Practice titled, “Care of the Homeless,” by Muneeza Khan. “On any given night, more than 610,000 persons in the United States are homeless; a little more than one third of these are families.” Each year two to three million people experience an episode of homelessness. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of homeless persons have a mental illness in comparison to only six percent of the U.S. general population. Approximately 50 percent of the homeless population that is suffering from a mental illness is also suffering from substance abuse.
The mentally ill homeless are some of the hardest to reach and toughest to treat. The U.S. federal government will spend approximately $5 billion on programs for the homeless during the 2015 fiscal year, according to a 2014 article titled, “Mental Disorders Keep Homeless on the Street,” by Rick Jervis, published in USA Today.
Major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia are common psychological illnesses in the homeless population. Suicide risk factors among the homeless population include: age younger than 30 years, Hispanic ethnicity, lower education level and increased length of homelessness. Mentally ill homeless people are more likely to become victims of physical abuse than homeless people without mental disorders.
Treatments that work
Two treatment modalities have helped homeless people with mental and substance disorders. The first strategy is known as the “Housing First” approach, which places homeless individuals into housing establishments first, then aides them in establishing care for their mental and/or substance abuse disorders.
The second approach aims at placing homeless persons in housing while simultaneously treating their disorder. In addition to housing, supported housing programs offer services such as mental health treatment, physical health care, education and employment opportunities, peer support, and daily living and money management skills training.
Besides getting more mentally ill homeless off the street, these modalities have decreased the number of hours police officers spend escorting homeless people to emergency rooms and have kept the homeless out of jails. Homeless people with mental illnesses are more likely to recover and achieve residential stability if they have access to supported housing programs. However, lack of funding is a significant barrier to the success of these supported housing programs. Raising awareness of this issue is the first step in obtaining help for the homeless population affected by mental disease.
Help and understanding needed
Homelessness is a growing problem, and society often judges homelessness negatively, especially among individuals who struggle with mental illness or addiction. Anyone can become homeless. Therefore, as a society, we need to take an active stance in aiding the homeless population.
Sovereign Mental Health Services provides the highest quality care in addiction, dual diagnosis and mental health treatment programs. If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental illness or a drug addiction, please call 866-954-0529 today.