How can we better support individuals with mental illness who are experiencing homelessness in our communities?

A large proportion of chronically homeless people suffer from drug addiction and mental health problems. More treatment centers and lower barriers to treatment are needed.

How can we better support individuals with mental illness who are experiencing homelessness in our communities?

A large proportion of chronically homeless people suffer from drug addiction and mental health problems. More treatment centers and lower barriers to treatment are needed. There are profound racial inequalities in terms of homelessness in California, as black people are at a very disproportionate risk of becoming homeless, as are American Indians or Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders, reflecting the effects of structural racism and unequal treatment and access to opportunities in education, employment, health, the judicial system and other areas. For all homeless people, public supports that help people meet their basic needs are important both to prevent homelessness and to facilitate a successful exit from homelessness.

The Food and Drug Administration as a new antipsychotic drug, which gave many people hope that mental health patients could live in the community with the help of medications. People of all ages and backgrounds are left homeless, and Californians are left homeless in every county in the state. Studies show that homelessness can be a traumatic event that influences a person's symptoms of mental illness. For example, rates of contact with the criminal justice system and of victimization among homeless adults with severe symptoms, such as psychosis, are higher than among adults staying with severe mental illness.

In 1963, President Kennedy enacted the Community Mental Health Act to provide federal funding for community-based mental health care, with the goal of replacing institutional care with community care. In addition, a larger percentage of people called chronic homelesses1 have drug addiction, serious mental illness, or both. This is due both to laws that penalize homeless people (such as laws that sanction public camping with subpoenas or arrests) and because people who have criminal records or who are re-entering the community after being incarcerated face enormous obstacles to obtaining and maintaining stable housing. Many systemic challenges rooted in classism, racism and sexism that harm individuals and families put people at greater risk of becoming homeless at some point in their lives.

Another way to understand how many Californians are left homeless is to count how many people received services for the homeless (such as shelters or outreach activities) over the course of a full year. Research shows that the trauma of being homeless can cause people to develop mental health problems for the first time and can worsen existing behavioral health problems. The combination of mental illness and homelessness can also cause other factors, such as increased levels of alcohol and drug abuse and violent victimization, which reinforce the connection between health and homelessness. About 70 percent of California's homeless people live outside of a shelter system and sleep in tents, open public spaces, or vehicles.

This devastation in people's lives is why homelessness in California is a crisis that requires urgent attention from federal, state and local leaders.

Selena Honie
Selena Honie

Zombie practitioner. Extreme music practitioner. Amateur music nerd. Evil bacon trailblazer. Hardcore web advocate.