According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than one-fifth of the estimated 610,000 homeless individuals across the United States suffer from severe mental illness.
The homeless population across the United States is ever-changing. Families and individuals move in and out of homelessness throughout the year, and since HUD’s estimate is represented by a single official count performed once a year, this single annual count, despite being organized by the United States government, cannot be representative of the entirety of the homeless population due to its changing nature. Another estimate calculated from a study performed by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that nearly 3.5 million individuals, 1.35 million of those individuals being children and adolescents, were likely to experience homelessness during the 2007 calendar year.
While an estimate of the homeless population within the United States with 100% accuracy and precision is difficult to attain, it is fair to assume that mental illness is prevalent in the homeless community no matter the population. HUD found that more than one-fifth of the homeless population in the United States suffer from at least one severe mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, crippling depression, etc., and it would be acceptable to assume that this sample size is representative of the homeless population as a whole.
Mental disorder is oftentimes easily treatable with the right medication and counseling, but it is more difficult for those suffering from homelessness, and those living below the poverty level, to access. Despite the immense number of programs working towards getting the mentally ill homeless individuals off of the street, these people are typically the most difficult to reach and the most difficult to treat. Many abuse drugs and alcohol in attempts to self-medicate, falling victim to not only a serious mental disorders, but addiction too.
In order to move those of the homeless community suffering from mental illness and addiction off of the streets, the “Housing First” approach is often considered one of the best methods in doing so. This strategy provides those individuals with shelter, and with shelter, those suffering from mental illness and addiction are provided with the help they need to overcome their struggles.