Homelessness and the Mentally Ill: What You Need to Know and Why You Should Care

By Nelson Burns, CEO of Coleman Professional Services

Believe it or not, on any given night in the United States over 500,000 people are homeless. Roughly 15% of this population are chronically homeless, having experienced long-term or repeated homelessness. Even though unsheltered homelessness has gone down in the US and the State of Ohio over the last six years, the number of those who are both homeless and mentally ill has not receded over this same period.

Today’s blog post will focus on the facts and figures surrounding the mentally ill homeless population, why you should care about this issue, what Coleman Professional Services is doing and, most importantly, how you can help with our efforts.

What is Homelessness?

Homelessness is categorized in three areas:

  • Sheltered homeless stay in emergency shelters or transitional housing. This may be one-day housing or short- or long-term rental arrangements.
  • Unsheltered homeless are living on the streets, in cars, or in abandoned buildings. This is what most individuals think of as homelessness because, often, it is what we see in the media and on the street.
  • Doubled up homeless are staying with friends and family and sleeping on a couch, air mattress, or in a spare bedroom.

The chronic homeless experience one or more of the above situations for a period of one year, or longer.

Homelessness Facts and Figures

  • Approximately 25% of American’s homeless are seriously mentally ill, of which most are not being treated for their disease.
  • It is believed that about 68% of homeless people abuse alcohol while 56% regularly use other drugs of one kind or another.
  • The homeless population with mental illness and people with addictions has increased steadily since the 1970s, due to the lack of psychiatric treatment centers and reduction of psychiatric hospital beds.
  • In rural areas, there are higher incidents of severe mental illness than in urban areas.
    Sources: Mental Illness Policy Org, SAMHSA, and The National Coalition for the Homeless

Why You Should Care

Because persons with serious mental health challenges often remain untreated while they are homeless, communities are forced to bear the cost of imprisoning, sheltering, and feeding them. While we all know that incarcerating a person who has a mental illness because they are homeless does not solve the issue of treatment and housing, the police and other community organizations often do not have the funding to offer long-term solutions.

Since the shutting down of psychiatric hospitals between 1955 and the late 1970s to reduce costs, many who are homeless and mentally ill are now found in jails and prisons, emergency rooms, and temporary shelters. They are not receiving the medication and rehabilitation services they need as a part of recovery.

Because homeless mentally ill individuals are often untreated, and many have substance abuse issues, their ability to access stable, affordable and appropriate housing is very difficult.

Professional mental health and addiction services, like those Coleman offers, help individuals to access and manage their own healthcare in a responsible way. For example, many of our new patients don’t have a primary care physician. With effective intervention, we can help people access the healthcare they need, reduce the cost of more severe healthcare problems in the patient’s future, and thus reduce entitlement costs. This is an important issue within the debate on the Affordable Care Act.

What Coleman Professional Services Offers

We provide housing placement services for homeless mentally ill individuals in Allen, Auglaize, Hardin, Summit, Jefferson, Portage, Stark, and Trumbull counties. Contact us 24/7 for further information and to set up an appointment for you or a loved one.

How You Can Help Us End Homelessness

To celebrate my 30-year tenure at Coleman Professional Services, my wife, Suzanne, and I have pledged to match up to $30,000 in contributions to support the ending of homelessness through permanent supportive housing for the mentally ill. Please consider providing your tax-deductible contribution today to help end homelessness.