People who think that homelessness is a personal problem of individuals subject to it are completely wrong. It has been estimated that 20-25% of the homeless in the U.S. have severe mental illnesses, compared to 6% of severely mentally ill people among the general population (Normore et al. 135). It means that many people without a place of residence are incapable of fixing their situation on their own due to psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, a great number of homeless individuals discharged from hospitals back to the streets leads to the increased spending of tax revenues on prisons, mental hospitals, and emergency rooms (Torrey). Homeless people often scavenge garbage cans for food, become victims of assaults, rapes, and robberies, and are at a higher risk of death (Torrey). The homelessness seems to be an infringement of human rights, and it is simply inappropriate to see individuals living on the streets in the civilized society. Therefore, measures should be taken to reduce the percentage of people without a home, especially those having serious mental illnesses, by providing them with housing and essential health care.
Mental Illness as a Cause of Homelessness
There are several reasons why people may find themselves living on the streets. They include high housing prices, low incomes, substance abuse, and mental illness (Executive Office of the President of the United States [EOP] 3). In 2015, it was evaluated that 564,708 humans in the U.S. were homeless (Torrey). The number of individuals lacking home is unequal throughout the states. While Oklahoma, Texas, and some other central states of the U.S. have less than ten homeless people per 10,000, the situation in the District of Columbia, New York, Oregon, California, and Hawaii is critical (EOP 9). For example, in the District of Columbia, the homelessness rate is 5.8 times as much as in the U.S., which is the highest rate in the country (EOP 9). Given a large number of people without a home, one should agree that the problem cannot be neglected.
The rates of mentally ill individuals living on the streets are also striking. Among the overall homeless population, 45%, which is 250,000 people, are mentally ill, and 25%, which is 140,000 people, have a serious mental illness (Torrey). According to Normore et al., psychiatric disorders are “the third largest cause of homelessness for single adults” (135). Furthermore, the correlation was found between the declining number of mental hospital beds and the growth of homelessness, since over thirty percent of discharged patients appeared to be homeless half a year later (Normore et al. 136). It suggests that psychiatric disorders closely correlate with homelessness and may be considered one of the major causes of this problem. Therefore, to lower the homelessness rates, it is essential to provide them with the proper treatment.
As many homeless individuals are mentally ill, a possible solution to the issue of homelessness is providing medical care to them. It is known that individuals having psychiatric disorders usually lack rational thinking. Therefore, they experience difficulties adhering to their daily routine, including following hygiene procedures or performing their job duties. If a serious mental illness remains untreated, it “causes the kind of delusions and bizarre behavior that makes living alone or at home with families untenable” (Torrey). Thus, the lack of treatment causes a mentally ill person to become homeless and, consequently, prevents him or her from becoming a more productive member of society.
However, it is also important to note that providing medical care without further giving a homeless person a place to live may be worthless. Srivastava, a practicing oncologist, says that “medical illness cannot be separated from socioeconomic factors.” In her work, she often sees a situation when homeless people are treated for a while and then are discharged back to the street since they have no place to go to (Srivastava). After some time, they return “a little sicker, a little more expensive and time-consuming” (Srivastava). It proves the point that providing health care for homeless people is a significant step in reducing homelessness rates, but it is also crucial to make sure they have some lodging after they sign out.
Some people think that being homeless is a personal choice, and, therefore, there is no need to waste money on helping those who decided to live on the streets. However, it is the wrong point of view regarding the facts stated above. People become homeless because of their incapability of maintaining a normal way of life due to mental illness or extreme poverty. Therefore, it is vital for them to get the necessary assistance from outside so that they could improve their situation and become integrated into society.
To sum up, homelessness is a critical problem in the U.S., which embraces a considerable part of the population of the country. Since many people without a permanent address are mentally ill, this problem should be handled in medical settings. Providing the necessary treatment to individuals with psychiatric disorders may decrease the number of homeless people. However, health care is not enough to rescue a person from homelessness since illnesses may continue to progress because of a lack of proper living conditions. Therefore, the problem should be solved comprehensively through the involvement of both medical treatment and housing provision.
Executive Office of the President of the United States. The State of Homelessness in America. 2019, Web.
Normore, Anthony H., et al. “The Defragmentation of Mental Health Services, Police, and the Homeless.” Policing, vol. 10, no. 2, 2016, pp. 134-142.
Srivastava, Ranjana. “It Breaks My Heart to Send My Homeless Patient Back to the Street. There Must be a Better Way.” The Guardian. 2019, Web.
Torrey, Edwin Fuller. “250,000 Mentally Ill are Homeless. 140,000 Seriously Mentally Ill are Homeless.” Mental Illness Policy Org. 2019, Web.