Homelessness and Mental Illness

Research shows that serious mental illness can impair an individual's ability to perform daily living skills, form and maintain relationships and understand others' efforts to help.  So it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 20-25% of homeless people in the United States experiences some form of severe mental illness, compared to a rate of about six percent in the general population.  

Adding to the challenges in helping some folks leave the street for treatment and recovery are "co-occurring conditions," a term referring to people with mental illness and dependence on alcohol or other drugs.  A 2013 survey of homeless people in Santa Barbara County found that 31% were suffering from severe mental illness and 51% were abusing alcohol.

"Our community needs greater compassion toward our neighbors without homes," states Crystal Ramirez, MFT, South County Regional Manager with the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness. "Maintaining a healthy community is everyone's responsibility."

"Perhaps the biggest misconception is that homeless people are violent," notes Father Jon Hedges, a community leader and homeless outreach worker with the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness.  "Statistics demonstrate that people on the street are more likely to be hurt by others than they are to hurt you."

What works in turning around the lives of homeless people?  "The most important thing is approaching people gently and building trust, one step at a time," reflects Father Jon.

To obtain behavioral health services in Santa Barbara County, please call the 24/7 Access Line, 1-888-868-1649. 

This article originally appeared in the Carpinteria Coastal View News.