About one out of every four homeless adults has a severe, persistent mental illness. However, only 5% of the estimated 4 million people with mental illness are homeless at any one time.
Release from institutions is not the cause of homelessness. Most patients were released from mental hospitals in the 1960s; homelessness grew in the 1980s when incomes and housing options dropped for people with marginal incomes. A new wave of deinstitutionalization and managed care has caused the homeless population to grow even larger.
According to the Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, only 5% to 7% of homeless people with mental illness need to have institutional care. The rest can live in the community with appropriate housing, rehabilitation services, and self-care support. At this time, there isn't enough community-based treatment services or housing supports.
Research has shown that homeless people with mental illness use services that are easy to enter, meet their needs, integrate with other services, address addictive needs, combine with meaningful activity, and include follow-up.
"Finally, the commitment to making deinstitutionalization work as it was intended must be renewed. People with mental illness must be able to live as independently as possible with the help of expanded comprehensive, community-based mental health services and other supports. It is crucial that policies be proactive rather than reactive."
The National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness recommended expanding existing community-based services for the homeless population with mental illness and increasing Supplemental Security Income benefit levels.
For more information, contact National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness, 262 Delaware Ave., Delmar, NY 12054, (800) 444-7515. #1066
National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness. (1999, April). Mental illness and homelessness. Delmar, NY: Author.