Severely Mentally Ill Individuals Still Struggle With Homelessness

The economic difficulties of the past few years have hurt every class in America. Although there are success stories to be found, few have gotten richer. Although it is uncertain if the numbers have gotten higher, many shelters are reporting more families coming to shelters.

One oft-neglected portion of our society, the severely mentally ill continue to struggle with homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that on any given night, approximately 664,000 people are homeless. Of those approximately 26.3 percent are severely mentally ill.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Samhsa) reports about the reasons that the severely mentally ill have such difficulty with homelessness.

In essence, Samhsa states that their symptoms make it harder for them to meet their basic needs. They have higher difficulties in finding places to live, and often fear the mental health system where many have had contact with previously. They are also less likely to be healthy in other ways, such as respiratory infections, tuberculosis, or exposure to HIV. Although not all do, many also have substance abuse problems. These individuals tend to stay in the same communities they became homeless in, and usually have no family who remain in contact with them or support them.

A major difficulty is finding shelter for those who are resistant to mental health treatments. Another is finding places that can offer mental health services combined with substance abuse treatment for those who need it. Also, unfortunately, the mentally ill among the homeless population are twice as likely as other homeless people to end up in negative interactions with the legal system which can cause even more difficulties with finding appropriate shelter.

There are shelters throughout the country that battle with these problems on a daily basis. The most successful shelters provide outreach, a combination of mental health and substance abuse treatment, and supportive services combined with supportive relationships to assist in residential placements.

The most important key of all however is prevention with an emphasis on the suffering individual’s input. By combining prevention services with the mentally ill homeless person’s buy-in and short-term follow-up services, the likelihood of future homelessness for this population, that has already suffering enough, may be reduced.