Home » Blogs » Therapy Soup » Mentally Ill And Homeless

Mentally Ill And Homeless

Homelessness, mental illness, and poverty are all correlated and it’s clear: mental illness can lead to poverty and homelessness, and poverty and homelessness can lead to mental illness. Here’s a statistical look at what’s going on:

Statistics: The statistics vary widely, some studies show there are less than a million homeless in our nation, other sources say that there are nearly that many homeless children! One thing is for sure, despite serious efforts over the past twelve years, there are more homeless today than ever.

Poverty: Due to the floundering economy and high jobless rate, the epidemic rise in poverty, and depleted state and city funds, more and more families are forced into shelters—or onto the streets. The Associated Press and the Huffington Post say studies show the national poverty rate will be higher when final figures are released for 2012 than any time since the 1960s.

Veterans: On any given day there are 100,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. Many of these veterans struggle with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or other mental illnesses.

Children: Children make up 23 percent of the homeless. There are an estimated 1.6 million minors living on the streets. The number of children living in homeless shelters in NYC is at an all-time high, 19,000. The stress of poverty and homelessness can lead to mental illness in some individuals; both children and adults are vulnerable.

Mentally Ill Homeless: The homeless rate of the mentally ill might also be on the rise and those who are mentally ill may be at a higher risk of homelessness, especially in times of economic turbulence. Some estimates say over 25 percent of the homeless have a mental illness (as opposed to 6 percent of Americans in general.) Some say nearly one-third of the homeless are mentally ill—accurate numbers are notoriously difficult to get.

Addiction: There are probably at least 200,000 homeless people who have a mental illness. Some of the mentally ill homeless are also addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many of these started abusing substances to medicate their symptoms of mental illness.

Jail: Due to budget cuts in cities and states across the nation, the mentally ill are sometimes being sent to jail. There are up to 300,000 mentally ill prisoners. Some of these are not getting treatment for their mental illness as they remain un-diagnosed, but some are actually getting treatment for the first time. However, I’d argue that many of those who are mentally ill and in jail belong in hospitals, not prisons.

Be Proactive, Resources: If you have a serious mental illness or know someone with a serious mental illness or addiction, make sure you get the support needed. In the U.S., contact the Administration for Children and Families, SAMHSA for local mental health or addiction services and support. If you are a runaway or homeless youth, contact the runaway program. Of course, you can contact local programs, these are national.

(Some of the information in this post is from the National Coalition of The Homeless.)

PHOTO: Leroy Skalstad

Mentally Ill And Homeless

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). Mentally Ill And Homeless. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.