Posted: March 2, 2011
Last Updated: March 2, 2011
There is only one stigma more misunderstood in our country than mental illness: homelessness. The two stigmas go hand-in-hand due to the fact that the mentally ill are over represented in the homeless population. Those with serious mental illness account for five to six times more of the 5 to 8 million that are homeless (20 to 25 percent) in any five-year period.
With over 2 million adults homeless in any given year and that number exploding to 3.5 million when you factor in the number of homeless children, it is easy to see why homelessness is such a serious matter.
The truth is anyone can become homeless, at any time. A few of the occurrences that can leave someone unexpectedly homeless are natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or a community evacuation, chronic or unexpected health problems, sudden job loss, domestic violence, ‘aging out’ of youth systems such as foster care, and relationship changes like divorce or separation. Most people exit from homelessness within two to three weeks, but this 80 percent tends to have a stronger support network and personal resources to draw from than the 20 percent that remain chronically homeless.
Some factors can cause people to remain homeless longer can include untreated mental illness that can cause a person to become paranoid, anxious or depressed making it difficult or impossible to maintain a stable job and pay bills. Substance abuse can drain funds and erode the support network a person has and can make exiting from homelessness extremely difficult.
Lack of affordable housing is an increasingly larger factor that causes homelessness in our country. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there are five million households in the U.S. with incomes below 50 percent of the local median who pay more than half of their income for rent or live in severely substandard housing. This is worsened by a decline in the number of housing units affordable to extremely low income households by 5 percent since 1991, a loss of over 370,000 units.
Poverty also plays a role. People who are homeless are the poorest of the poor. In 1996, the year with the most recent calculation available, the median monthly income for people who were homeless was $367, only 46 percent of the Federal Poverty Level for a single adult at that time. Poverty can occur unexpectedly as well, due to lay-offs or business closures. Sudden job loss was one of the largest contributors to homelessness before Hurricane Katrina skyrocketed natural disasters to the leading contributor in 2005.
It is important that communities provide an integrated network of outreach and supportive services to aid in helping people exit homelessness. Whether it is a domestic violence shelter to offer a family a safe haven or building new affordable housing units, the solutions must be diverse to alleviate this complex problem. Integrated mental health and substance abuse treatment can improve mental health and resilient abilities in the community and lower homeless rates.
Finally, prevention is the key to helping solve homelessness. Mental health services, access to housing, and transitional housing support can make it a transition in housing from one place to the next, instead of being left trying to ‘exit’ homelessness.
For more information on homelessness call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649; in Luna County, call 546-2174. For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.