Mental illness can cause a person to become homeless, whereas, homelessness can bring about emotional problems. Most people see those who are excessively disheveled, talking aloud to an unknown entity. It is easy to assume that they are crazy, otherwise defined as severely mentally ill.
“The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” indicates that approximately 26 percent of adults living in shelters suffer from a serious mental illness. They further state that 46 percent live with severe mental illness and/or abuse narcotics or alcohol.
Mental illness can also impair a person’s ability to be resilient and resourceful; it can cloud thinking and impair judgment. For all these reasons, people with mental illness are at greater risk of becoming homeless.
Homelessness, in turn, amplifies poor mental health. The stress of being homeless may exacerbate previous mental illness and encourage anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness and substance use. The needs of homeless people with mental illnesses are similar to those without mental illnesses: physical safety; education; transportation; affordable housing; and, affordable medical/dental treatment.
Homeless Without Significant Mental Illness
What about the person without a serious condition who homeless? Sometimes mental illness is not the reason a person finds themselves without a place to live. Having to ask for help can be stressful, in and of itself, but finding oneself in need of the basic necessities is unthinkable.
Unfortunately, the time it could take to decide that assistance should be sought. A woman, who wishes anonymity explained:
I thought I could continue working while I slept in my truck after I was kicked out of my apartment. But my boss thought that it would be better for me to quit. So, I lost my job. After several days living in the cab of my truck, without food and sound sleep, I started to feel overwhelmed and depressed.
Finally, I began to believe that a meal and a shower would help me find another job. So, I went to Catholic Charity Services and told the nice lady this. Being homeless was not in my vocabulary since it was only a temporary thing.
She said that what I needed first was a place to stay and the rest would follow. I was referred to the Joan Kroc Center.
When people say they are depressed, it is often situational and should be referred to as sadness or trepidation. Nonetheless, being homeless can bring about depression, especially if the person is predisposed to mental illness.
Being homeless with children intensifies the problem and increases the related stress. Even if they are fortunate enough to be accepted at a shelter, they are in rooms with strangers and meals do not have the options they are used to having. School-aged children attend a temporary classroom and lose continuity in their education.
Joan Kroc Center Helps the Homeless and Indigent
The St. Vincent de Paul Village — Joan Kroc Center in downtown San Diego, California, offers several programs for the homeless. Volunteers and paid staff, work to give aid and comfort in multiple ways:
- Temporary Housing: 24-hour emergency, one-to- two-week program, and transitional housing for periods up to 18 months;
- Employment Services: job preparedness, placement, and retention training;
- Food: For the temporary residents, there are two hot meals a day and a bagged lunch. The dining area is opened to serve the homeless and indigent during the lunch hour.
- They offer mental health counseling services, budgeting training, and the Anonymous programs; AA, NA, Al-Anon, etc.;
- The center hosts volunteers: local barbers and stylists once a month, and veterinarians to look after animals that are kept by their homeless masters.
Demographics of Homeless Veterans
Many veterans of wars and military conflicts suffer from mental illness, and some of those end up homeless. Almost half are thought to be those who served during the Vietnam era, according to The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
Also noted is that one-third of this population were stationed in a war zone and two-thirds were active duty for three years or more. The following statistics comparing non-veteran homeless and veterans offer distressing details. Overall, homeless vets make up
- 11 percent of the homeless population;
- 20 percent of the men;
- 9 percent of the women;
- 51 percent of them have disabilities;
- 50 percent suffer from serious mental illness;
- and 70 percent have substance abuse problems.
Veterans make up 57 percent of Caucasian men, whereas, the non-vet homeless male population is 38. Nineteen percent of non-veterans are 51 and older, as compared to 50 percent of vets.
Unfortunately, there are not enough shelters, volunteers, and funding to offer assistance to all of the homeless population.
Informal camping areas crop up in residential areas, and it is not uncommon to see people sleeping in business doorways and interstate greenways. Evidence of mentally ill homelessness can be seen with the debris left by residents of the camps.
Many cities struggle with the epidemic of homeless individuals. Some are considering opening shelters in abandoned buildings previously occupied by businesses.
By Cathy Milne
NAMI: Mental Health By The Numbers
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: The 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment to Congress
NATIONAL COALITION for HOMELESS VETERANS: Who are homeless veterans?
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness: Mental Health
St. Vincent de Paul Village — Joan Kroc Center: About
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Ed Ogle’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Tom Fortunato’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License