Eslinger is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and lives in Torrance. Solomon is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and lives in Temecula.
Did you wake up in a warm, safe environment this morning? Many Americans did not. The U.S. Department of Urban and Housing Development, in its 2020 Annual Assessment Report to Congress, said that 580,466 people experienced homelessness in the nation on a single night in 2020, an increase of 12,751 people from 2019. According to a study published in 2017 by the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 25 percent of homeless individuals suffer from a serious mental illness, a stark contrast to the 4.2 percent with such issues in the general population.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, serious mental illness is marked by pervasive episodic or cyclical impairment of a person’s life and daily activities. Homeless individuals have fewer resources and less access to medications, therapies and interventions, compared with the general population. Therefore, mental illness creates more marginalization for those in an already precarious situation.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 43.8 percent of adults with mental illness received care. This means 56.2 percent of individuals with mental illness are untreated. Take a moment to ponder this statistic: Less than half of the general population with mental illness received assistance in 2019. According to the alliance, 11.9 percent of adults with serious mental illness lacked health insurance. If this was not staggering enough, the alliance also reports that 55 percent of U.S. counties lack a single practicing psychiatrist.
Imagine how severely this impacts homeless residents who are without resources and access to care. Without medication or therapeutic treatment, most homeless individuals with a mental illness diagnosis fall into a vicious cycle and do not receive services. According to official estimates, San Diego County has the fourth highest homeless population in the United States. The San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless reported last April that it had counted 7,638 homeless people residing in San Diego County in its point in time count in January 2020, with 3,971 of them unsheltered and living on the streets.
More than 40 percent of homeless individuals in San Diego County are believed to have a mental illness. While this statistic may seem daunting, there are strategies that can be implemented to address the homeless crisis and create hope for the future. When he was mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer began implementing the Landlord Engagement and Assistance Program. It works with landlords to allow homeless individuals to occupy empty residences with a monetary incentive for the landlords. Interfaith Community Services in North County worked with the county Board of Supervisors to purchase a vacant Escondido hotel in 2020 to serve as housing for the homeless population. The project is called “Hotel of Healing” and will provide rehabilitation as well as housing. The housing is available for individuals being discharged from the hospital or those who need to reclaim their lives from this vicious cycle.
A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association concludes the struggle that homeless people face to obtain mental health treatment can be attributed to the mass closing of psychiatric facilities that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.
As a remedy to this, the study highlights the model used by the St. Paul’s Center in New York. This community center aimed to provide quality care when addressing the psychiatric needs of people who suffered from a chronic serious mental illness. The two caveats to obtaining this care were that patients could not be currently using substances and that they could not use third-party insurance. The study highlights the various successes of this program, such as the fact that all homeless patients who received this psychiatric care ended up obtaining housing and sustaining housing. This shows that when people with serious mental illnesses receive the treatment they need, they are able to lead stable lives. This program could serve as a template nationally for other counties and states to adopt. Does someone you love struggle with mental illness? Imagine them not receiving much-needed care.
Write a letter to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria at the City Administration Building, email him at email@example.com or call his office at (619) 236-6330. Implore him to create safe housing for the homeless and opportunities for mental health treatment.