In any given week, more than 600,000 adults are homeless in the United States; over 2,000,000 adults are homeless over the course of a year. Over a five year period, approximately two to three percent of the U.S. population will experience at least one night of homelessness. For the great majority of these people, the experience is short and often caused by a natural disaster, house fire, or community evacuation. Eighty percent will exit homelessness within two to three weeks, and another ten percent within approximately two months. It is the remaining ten percent where mental illness and substance use are most common. On any given night, this group of homeless persons can account for up to fifty percent of those seeking emergency shelter.
Why are so many people with serious mental illness homeless? There are a number of reasons. Often their symptoms are active and untreated, making it extremely difficult for them to meet basic needs for food, shelter, and safety. Up to fifty percent of those who are homeless and have a mental illness also have a co-occurring substance use disorder, complicating effective interventions. Mental illness is also a very impoverishing disease and many individuals are not receiving financial benefits for which they may be eligible. And even after someone has qualified for Social Security disability, there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing options in communities and states across the country, including Omaha.
By one national study, it takes over 90% of the standard disability payment to pay for the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Omaha.
Research has provided much information about what services are effective in ending homelessness for people with serious mental illnesses. These include outreach in the shelters and on the street; engaging homeless individuals in mental health and integrated mental health and substance use treatment; helping people to access housing, financial supports, and other community services; increasing our community’s stock of safe, quality, affordable housing options; and providing supportive services in housing.
We know that individuals with mental illness in homeless shelters are typically long-term citizens of the communities in which they are homeless. We also know that it takes a comprehensive and compassionate community response to end homelessness.
Community Alliance’s services, focused on outreach, assistance in accessing needed services, and the offering of supportive housing options, is a part of that comprehensive response.
Information was gathered on this topic and additional resources are available from the following sources: