California is infamous for the growing record number of homeless people in the state. Orange County occupies a special place in this problem, where the unhoused population has grown by almost 50% in two years by 2019. Besides, a third (31.2%) of those people were identified with having mental health issues. This indicator exceeds the US population, which constitutes roughly 20%. Moreover, a substance-use disorder is attributed to 26.63% of homeless people in Orange County (Robin et al., 2021). Despite the county’s policy attempts to address homelessness, mentally unhealthy unhoused people still represent an increasing trend.
The first attempts to overcome homelessness focused on the external appearance of the situation. Thus, 33 of 34 cities have introduced laws prohibiting sleep and resting in public places. Given that the construction of shelters and social housing was largely lagged behind in terms of the community’s needs, such measures were later challenged as inadequate. Eventually, homelessness was not decreasing, and some other steps were evidently needed.
In the meantime, it is worth noting that homelessness represents a severe financial burden on the municipal budget and local organizations. For example, about $300 million was spent on leveling the situation in 2014 and 2015 (Robin et al., 2021). Thus, as the number of homeless people grows, so does the cost of providing housing. Therefore, it is essential to address the problem rationally, breaking it down into causal components in order to not only manage but also prevent homelessness ultimately.
When it became clear that the problem of the growing number of homeless people could not be solved by criminalizing outdoor sleepovers, the Orange County administration introduced more social policies. In addition to providing shelters and temporary housing, the program of the outreaching and treating homeless population suffering from mental disorders. The Homeless Mentally Ill Outreach and Treatment Program is designed to deal with a root cause of a problem seeking to prevent homelessness providing assistance with specific needs, behavioral and mental treatment, and housing. Such aid, for example, can include group therapy, counseling, medical services, education, or crisis intervention. Overall, HMIOT managed to outreach 952 homeless people within the first 17 months (Robin et al., 2021). Certainly, the initiative has a beneficial effect on the solution of the situation since it is aimed at its root.
The main advantage of the new approach is understanding the diversity and characteristics of the needs of homeless people depending on their gender, race, age, and other demographic factors. According to Orange County’s 2019 PIT count, 71.63% of unhoused people were white, and males represented 71.75%. Furthermore, more than half of the unsheltered population comprises people aged between 24 and 49 (Robin et al., 2021). Importantly, those unhoused with mental health and substance disorders could now be reached out thanks to the mobile format of the initiative. Reducing barriers to care allowed providing necessary resources and treatment even to those who could not ask for assistance.
All in all, despite challenges such as the pandemic, high turnover of staff, many homeless people received help. Telecare was successfully integrated into the program to cope with safety protocols restrictions related to the pandemic. In general, homeless people with mental health issues were primarily focused on. Therefore, it can be stated that the administration implemented a strategically justified initiative, appealing to the vulnerable proportion of the unhoused population.
Robin, L., Doyle, L., Perez, R., & Peterson, B. (2021). Assessment of the Orange County, California, Homeless Mentally Ill Outreach and Treatment Services. Urban Institute.