Approximately 20 – 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness, 2003). While 22% of the American population suffers from a mental illness, a small percentage of the 44 million people who have a serious mental illness are homeless at any given point in time (National Institute of Mental Health, 2005).
Despite the disproportionate number of mentally ill people among the homeless population, the growth in homelessness is not attributable to the release of seriously mentally ill people from institutions. Most patients were released from mental hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, yet vast increases in homelessness did not occur until the 1980s, when incomes and housing options for those living on the margins began to diminish rapidly (see “Why Are People Homeless?,” NCH Fact Sheet #1). However, a new wave of deinstitutionalization and the denial of services or premature and unplanned discharge brought about by managed care arrangements may be contributing to the continued presence of seriously mentally ill persons within the homeless population.
Mental disorders prevent people from carrying out essential aspects of daily life, such as selfcare, household management and interpersonal relationships. Homeless people with mental disorders remain homeless for longer periods of time and have less contact with family and friends. They encounter more barriers to employment, tend to be in poorer physical health, and have more contact with the legal system than homeless people who do not suffer from mental disorder. All people with mental disorders, including those who are homeless, require ongoing access to a full range of treatment and rehabilitation services to lessen the impairment and disruption produced by their condition. However, most people with mental disorder do not need hospitalization, and even fewer require long-term institutional care. According to the 2003 U.S.Department of Health and Human Services Report, most homeless persons with mental illness do not need to be institutionalized, but can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). Unfortunately, there are not enough community-based treatment services, nor enough appropriate, affordable housing,to accommodate the number of people disabled by mental disorders in the U.S. (Reprinted from the National Coalition For The Homeless.