Homelessness can affect any of us. No one is exempt from this reality. Life is simply unpredictable. For many struggling with homelessness, it can be rather easy to hide. With a PO Box or the address of a close family member, no one will ever know that an individual is living on the streets day and night. Even more disheartening is that the majority are children or adults with severe or untreated mental illnesses in the US.
Do you have a family member with an untreated or severe mental illness? Do you have a hard time getting them to see they need treatment? Do you fear they will rebel and end up homeless? You are not alone. Many families, caregivers, and friends deal with this dilemma. For many families they feel insecure, uncertain, and fearful when a severe or untreated mental illness leads to hospitalization, incarceration, or homelessness. There is rarely if ever anyone to hold their hand through the process. Aloneness describes their reality.
Many believe that homelessness is the result of lack of motivation, substance abuse, or poverty. But the reality is that homelessness is also the result of abuse, trauma, and mental illness among many other factors. According to the National Alliance To End Homelessness (2013), about 7% of the homeless population lives in rural areas where resources are scarce. They also report that at least 250,000 families are homeless, while a significant portion of the homeless are young parents.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center-TAC (2013), “between 150,000 and 200,000 people, of the estimated 744,000” are among the homeless population. A consequence of inadequate or nonexistent psychiatric treatment is often homelessness. Most people do not know that the majority are regularly victimized, use garbage bins (8%) as food sources, embrace libraries as “temporary shelters,” and can put society at risk if they have an untreated or severe mental illness. The TAC supports Assisted Outpatient Treatment as a viable solution to this dilemma.
The National Center On Family Homelessness reports that 1 in 45 kids, or 1.6 million, are homeless in America. These kids are more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems, ear infections, asthma, have high rates of obesity, respiratory infections, and experience three times the behavioral problems of children who are not homeless.
Awareness within families dealing with severe or untreated mental illness is important. Here is a list of things families, caregivers, and friends can do to help their loved one:
We have a national problem that deserves much more attention. Sometimes it feels as if there is no way to help the homeless or mentally ill. But don’t fall prey to this defeatist mind-set. We can make changes, but we have to educate ourselves and become motivated by the facts.
Click here for a national directory of homeless shelters and social services
All the best
Homeless Children Education’s Fund. (n.d.). The “go-to” place for facts, figures, agencies, and useful websites. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from http://www.homelessfund.org/resources.html.
National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2013). Issues. Retrieved February 10, 2013, from http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/issues.
Treatment Advocacy Center. (2011). Homelessness: One of the consequences of failing to treat individuals with severe mental illness-backgrounder. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1379&Itemid=217.
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Last reviewed: 16 Mar 2013