A Hidden Pandemic: What actions can be taken to better provide for the mental health needs of homeless individuals?


In case you cannot see the video here is the link: Video

What you need to know:

I am not going to beat around the bush or sugar-coat it, there is a pandemic in America, and I am not talking Corona. At an absolute minimum, 25% of homeless individuals are “seriously” mentally ill (“Homelessness and Mental Illness: A Challenge to Our Society.”). And that is only counting individuals whose state is considered “serious”, which is defined by NIMH as a “mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities” (“Mental Illness.”). That is, again at an absolute minimum, 140,000 people who are practically unable to function. Then add another 20% for homeless people who are mentally ill without the “serious” attached, and you have yourself, at a minimum, 250,000 homeless people suffering from mental illness (“Homelessness and Mental Illness: A Challenge to Our Society.”). Although the true scope of the problem is almost unknowable, due to lack of research. One study found the reported rates to be 78% (Rountree). That is obviously not acceptable.


However, in order to be able to fix the problem, we must first understand the problem, and the problem of mental illness in a homeless setting is far more complex than it may occur on the surface. The first question that begs an answer is this: Does homelessness cause mental illness or does mental illness cause homelessness? And the answer is… “yes”. Mental illness and homelessness is a two-way street (“Homelessness and Mental Illness: A Challenge to Our Society.”). Being mentally ill makes you far more likely to be homeless, as you are less able to function, which makes it harder to get a job and pay rent. Being homeless also contributes to mental illness, due to the strife and trauma of living in such terrible conditions. Substance abuse further adds to the likelihood of mental health issues in homeless individuals, with 75% reporting substance abuse of some kind (Rountree).

My Response: What can be done?

The first answer is obvious: Provide funding to programs that combat homelessness and alleviate the struggles of being homeless. The federal government spends about 2.777 billion a year on grants to combat homelessness, but this is not nearly enough (“Federal Funding for Homelessness Programs.”). It is up to us, as responsible caring individuals, to donate to organizations that combat homelessness, push for legislation aimed at homelessness, and elect representatives that hold relevant beliefs about the importance of homelessness. We have to do our part. That is the easy doable answer, and I have attached below two links to websites that are good places to put your money to help combat homelessness:

End Homelessness

National Homeless

The next answer is harder, and beyond my own personal capabilities. I believe that we need to establish organizations aimed specifically at assisting mentally ill homeless individuals. Through all of my research for this catalyst page, I could not find a single organization aimed at mentally ill homeless individuals. There are many great organizations out there looking to end homelessness, and even more providing physical support to those in need, and that is great. But only a few that I found had mental health oriented programs, and all of them were centered around substance abuse. We need people out there focused on the mental health of the homeless. Organizations and individuals focused on that cause specifically, because what good is getting a mentally ill person a home, if they will just end up back on the street because the underlying issues were never addressed? In order to help homelessness, we must first help the homeless.

Works Cited:

The Brains of the Operation


If you have any comments, questions, feedback, or otherwise, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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  1. April 23, 2020 by Emma McDermott

    Hey Sebastian! I thought you did a really great job with this project. It was organized, you provided helpful and relevant media, and you took a opinionated stance on the topic. I also liked that you added two sites that people could actually take action on and donate to! That was a great interactive piece in this project. I think one thing that I would have liked to have seen is maybe a more personal aspect of the project, such as an interview or a video or some sort. I think this could help the audience grow their empathy and really see the problem for what it is. One question that I have is what is the most popular types of mental illnesses seen in the homeless population, and do they vary from country to country or even rural to urban populations?

    • April 26, 2020 by Sebastian

      Hey Emma! I would have loved to include a more personal aspect of the project. I was going to reach out to local resources to try and organize something along those lines. However, most of the organizations in my area are either closed or too busy due to corona, but you’re definitely right. It would have been great. As for your question, I did some research and it seems that schizophrenia is the most common. I couldn’t find anything on location-specific data, but I suspect that is due to a lack of interest in this topic, which, as a mentioned, stunted my progress with this project.

  2. April 23, 2020 by Helena

    Hi Sebastian! Firstly, I want to applaud you for choosing such a riveting and important topic. I think the mental health state of homeless people is seriously overlooked and is definitely something that needs to be addressed. Defining it as a hidden pandemic is such an effective way to grab the attention of the reader and really shows the severity of the situation. I loved the action item of the links to donation sites and made sure to check html for it. it’s inspiring to see how people are working to help! I liked how you included a personal element in it at the end but i think it would have been great to do an interview somewhere! I know it’s hard with everything going on right now but it would have been really cool to hear a first person perspective of a homeless person.

    • April 26, 2020 by Sebastian

      Hey Helena! Thanks so much for the feedback. I too would have loved an interview of some kind, but I got on it a little too late, and most of my local organizations have their hands full, or are shut down right now. Which is really unfortunate, especially for the homeless people who need their help. These are strange times, but yes. An interview would have been great.

  3. April 28, 2020 by Cali Jenkins

    Hi Sebastian! I think you chose a really amazing topic to center your project on. As someone who lived in a highly populated city, I am not a stranger to witnessing homelessness and I you are correct in your assertion that rarely anything gets done in the issue of mental health. I have volunteered at a few different homeless shelters/soup kitchens and the rules are always the same: “They might scream at you so just ignore them or tell them to keep moving in line”, “no one gets seconds until *insert time*”, “some of them will seem out of it, just serve them and keep it moving”. While those establishments are doing amazing work and truly helping these people get fed or giving them a place to sleep safely, there is little to no focus on mental health. I thought your sources were really well chosen and the research was eye opening. You did an amazing job!

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