Today in the United States, approximately 45% of individuals experiencing homelessness have some type of mental illness, and roughly 25% reportedly have a mental illness that is considered serious. This stands in stark contrast to the fact that only about 4.2% of all adults in this country have been diagnosed with a chronic mental illness. But why do such dramatic discrepancies exist? With modern technology and resources, it has never been easier to connect people in need with life-improving services, but there are still individuals in our own communities that are overlooked and left with untreated mental health conditions.
It shouldn’t be surprising that individuals experiencing homelessness have increased difficulty obtaining the level of care and treatment needed to maintain healthy lifestyles. But it might be surprising to know that mental illness is actually the third leading cause of homelessness in the United States. In fact, based on the latest research, approximately 250,000 people suffer from mental illness and are experiencing homelessness in the United States, and 140,000 are considered chronic. At any given time, there are significantly more people with a severe, untreated psychiatric disorder, like Schizophrenia, living on the streets than are receiving care in hospitals.
The very nature of homelessness creates serious barriers to access treatment for mental health. People experiencing homelessness are typically living in poverty, uninsured or underinsured, and don’t have people in their lives that can help them navigate the public mental healthcare system. Lack of documentation and transportation, combined with difficult treatment regimens also prevent many people experiencing homelessness from succeeding in mainstream behavioral health care, including in the public healthcare safety net systems established for persons without insurance.
But despite the fact that safety net healthcare programs are used by many, there are still major challenges that need to be overcome for the system to be truly effective. Due to factors like monetary constraints and limited understanding of homelessness, many mainstream mental and behavioral health service providers are unable to offer the care necessary to address the complicated needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. But the problem doesn’t just stop with mental health. Untreated addictions coupled with mental illnesses, also known as concurrent disorders, make it much more difficult to find and sustain employment and permanent housing. This perpetuates a cycle of poor mental and physical health, hospitalization, social dysfunction, incarceration, poverty, and homelessness.
At JOIN, we are dedicated to helping individuals and families attain permanent housing. Part of this mission involves working and advocating with local agencies to ensure that the homeless population in Portland is not left out of policy decisions that will impact them directly and indirectly. Because effective mental health care is essential to helping individuals and families maintain permanent housing, we consistently push for policy and funding that help people maintain permanent housing and promote their well-being.
If you’d like to help JOIN continue to help individuals and families in Portland transition into permanent housing, please consider donating today.