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Homelessness and Mental Health


The relationship between homelessness and mental illness is complex and often the two are intertwined. The reality of homelessness is still met with scrutiny as some people believe living on the streets is simply the result of problems with drugs or an unwillingness to work. However, other causes for being homeless include abuse and mental health problems.



Homelessness is an extreme form of poverty characterized by the instability of housing and the inadequacy of income, health care supports and social supports. Homelessness exists when people lack safe, stable, and appropriate places to live. Sheltered and unsheltered people are homeless. People living doubled up or in overcrowded living situations or motels because of inadequate economic resources are included in this definition, as are those living in tents or other temporary enclosures.


Individuals without homes often lack access to health care treatment (Kushel et al., 2001). Chronic health problems and inaccessibility to medical and dental care can increase school absences and limit employment opportunities (APA, 2010). People without homes have higher rates of hospitalizations for physical illnesses, mental illness, and substance abuse than other populations (Kushel et al., 2001; Salit, Kuhn, Hartz, Vu, & Mosso, 1998).



Lack of documentation, lack of transportation, and difficulty adhering to treatment regimens prevent many homeless individuals from succeeding in mainstream behavioral health care.


Prevention and Treatment:


Mental Health Services reach out to disabled, homeless adults in the community, building the trust needed for them to accept housinzg and treatment services.


  • Crisis intervention 
  • Ongoing therapy and outpatient treatment 
  • Psychiatric services
  • Case management and care coordination  
  • Access to supportive housing 
  • Referrals to other internal and external services, as appropriate 


Housing First  Approach

For people living with mental illness who are homeless, recovery can’t happen without adequate housing. Not only do people experiencing homelessness face significant physical health risks—homelessness can reduce a person's life expectancy by 20 years—existing mental health problems can also be exacerbated. Without a home to provide an element of stability and control—a safe place to call their own—facing the daily challenges of life is nearly impossible.


Coping Methods:

Having a loved one with a mental illness can be difficult, especially if the person hasn’t received a diagnosis or refuses treatment. A lot of family members are left feeling helpless, particularly when mental health issues lead the person to be hospitalized, imprisoned, or homeless. There are, however, ways for families and friends to help.


Mental health professionals can put you in touch with other organizations which may be able to offer additional assistance. Mental illness and homelessness are not conditions to be ashamed of, but to be addressed with the goal of management and recovery.  Begin working together on a plan for assessment, diagnosis and treatment.






Guidance Center (Mo., USA)

24-Hour Crisis Line 888-279-8188


FrontLine Service (OH, USA)

24/7 Crisis Hotline: 216-623-6888


24-hour Project Homeless Coordination Center  (PA, USA)

Hotline at (215) 232-1984.

National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (USA)

Call 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838)






MEHEP website contains general information and should not be substituted for medical advise, diagnosis, treatment or referral services. MEHEP recommend that you seek knowledge, skill and judgment from a qualified psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians or health care provider about your medical condition. MEHEP is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the MEHEP website. MEHEP is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites.

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