OK, here’s a bombshell for you. Except for the few who become homeless solely because of financial issues, all homeless people suffer from mental illness. Just look at how the Mayo Clinic defines mental illness.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.
Did you see what they did there? They included addictive behaviors under the category of mental illness. Thank you Jesus, I’ve been saying this for a long time, but always received push-back from people who wanted to separate the two (addictions and mental illness) as different causes of homelessness. All those alcoholics who say that they don’t have a mental health issue, but only need to kick their habit – claiming their habit to be a physiological dependency instead of a psychological dependency, are only kidding themselves.
Even more, a person doesn’t have to be completely crazy for their mental illness to cause them to become homeless. If a person is suffering from depression and anxiety, they may be able to function adequately well in many social situations, but not in situations where employment and housing stability are affected. And not all mental illnesses affect one’s intellectual capacity. I once met a guy staying at the Nashville rescue mission who was an astrophysicist, he could chart the positions of all the planets in real time using just pencil and paper, but his mental illness was such that he could not hold a job.
Another thing that bothers me is the assumption, even held by many mental health professionals, that a person cannot achieve a level of self awareness if he is incapacitated by mental illness. Attempting to determine if a person has mental health issues by asking him to perform simple math problems in his head seems awfully ridiculous to me. Same goes with asking him if he knows who the current president is, or whether or not they can keep their apartment clean. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me that, because I can create a blog, then I must possess the ability to achieve gainful employment as well. One really doesn’t have much to do with the other. Being able to perform a particular task is one thing, doing it to the satisfaction of an employer is something different.
Evidence of this is now seen all over the country with the implementation of the new Housing First programs. The old school thought was that a homeless person would first have to overcome all of his disabilities, addictions, mental health issues, before he would be able to handle the challenge of maintaining housing. But that’s just not true. Housing First puts homeless people directly into permanent housing, regardless of their current health condition. And lo-and-behold, these homeless people are achieving great success in the program. Cities are reporting 80% or more of the homeless placed in the Housing First programs have kept with the program for a year or more. It really is possible for an addict or a mentally ill person to maintain a home, so long as they receive proper assistance.
Of course getting these homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing is just the beginning. While in the Housing First program, these people will be working to overcome their personal issues so that eventually they can move on to truly independent living. And that transition is certainly much easier to achieve while living in permanent housing, than while living on the streets.