Homelessness Increases among Individuals with Serious Mental Illness 

The number of people experiencing homelessness has increased for the first time in seven years, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report delivered to Congress in December of 2017.

An estimated 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2017, according to the report, the first time since 2010 in which there was an increase from the year prior.

With conservative estimates of 25% of the homeless population having serious mental illness, this means that more than 138,435 individuals with serious mental illness were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2017.

However, as one digs deeper into the report, the scarier the picture it paints becomes.

The increase in homelessness was driven by the large increases in the number of individuals who were unsheltered and homeless in the 50 largest cities in the United States, with largest increases in Los Angeles and Fresno, California, and New York City.

The prevalence of serious mental illness among unsheltered individuals is much higher than in the general homeless population, which includes youth and homeless families. In addition, widely reported are the significant increases of serious mental illness among homeless individuals in metropolitan areas in California.

The Annual Homeless Report to Congress also states that in the past year there has been an even larger increase in the number of chronically homeless individuals. The chronically homeless, someone who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, made up almost 25% of the total homeless population in 2017, a 12% increase from the previous year. Almost seven in ten of these individuals were unsheltered.

The prevalence of severe mental illness among an individual experiencing chronic homelessness is even higher, with estimates ranging from 33% to more than 50% in some areas. The horrible living conditions and lack of treatment of individuals with serious mental illness who are chronically homeless contributes to the gruesome 25-year lower life expectancy statistics among individuals who have a severe psychiatric disease.

There are tools available to reduce homelessness among individuals with severe mental illness. New data out of New York State shows that individuals with serious mental illness participating in assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) in New York City had a 62% reduction in homelessness. In more rural regions of Central NY, individuals on AOT had an 83% reduction in homelessness.

To learn more about serious mental illness and homelessness, check out our background paper.

Elizabeth Sinclair
Research Associate
Treatment Advocacy Center

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