Mental Illness & Homelessness :: A Glance


When you see a homeless person, who do you see?

I see myself.

I see the 33% suffering from untreated, severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia & bipolar disorder. I see ordinary, everyday decent people who fell upon hard times. I see the mentally ill person who didn’t have access to proper mental health care or simply couldn’t afford it. My heart breaks with empathy because I’m familiar with their pain, but that empathy quickly turns to anger!

Let me use myself as a quick example of someone who is currently fortunate enough to have access to mental health care, but could just as easily not! I have bipolar disorder & honestly, I would consider it fairly well managed. However, that doesn’t happen overnight & one needs a support system. Still, this summer has been rough. . . filled with ultra rapid-cycling, mixed states, & the inevitable crash of bipolar depression. Not surprisingly, my meds needed a small adjustment. Thank goodness I have fabulous health insurance because I wouldn’t be able to afford my new prescription otherwise!

Otherwise I would have to get my care from free clinics. Thank goodness they’re available, obviously some care is better than no care. But I’ve heard first-hand accounts of three-month long waiting lists. I would’ve been in psychosis by then; & likely institutionalized. Or maybe in an effort to self-medicate I’d have returned to my previous life of alcoholism, which also equates losing my family. And if that were to happen, I could easily become one of the homeless people you pass on the streets. If it weren’t for a couple of people who didn’t give-up on me when I was in active addiction, that would have been me. Alternatively, I would choose suicide. Not a pretty picture. But it’s an honest one. And it’s one I, & many others, know well.

I’m no different than any one of those dear souls without a place to call home. I’m just lucky to have married a man who works for a union that did a kick-ass job negotiating our prescription drug benefits.

My insurance saved me over $1,000 on ONE prescription for ONE month! Now, please tell me that you agree this is ridiculous?! Especially when you factor in the number of mentally ill people who are unable to work. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide! So when it’s so difficult for people to access the help that they desperately NEED, what do you think is going to happen? Of course this is only one small part of it all.




Chronic Homelessness” is defined as long-term or repeated homelessness & includes individuals with physical or mental disabilities, including schizophrenia &/or substance abuse disorders. Permanent housing attached to intensive services is essential for stability.

In January 2014, there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S. {These numbers are recorded every two years in January.} It’s estimated that one third of the total homeless population are individuals with untreated serious mental illnesses. These illnesses are manageable with medications & proper mental health care. When left untreated though, things continue to spiral. Undiagnosed &/or untreated mental illness is tiresome & it wears you down, I can attest. In an effort to gain just a little relief, many individuals turn to alcohol & drugs. But believe me, substance abuse only perpetuates & worsens mental illness. A cycle is often born: the streets, jail, hospital, back to the streets. Round & Round… According to a USA TODAY article, in 2014 the federal government spent approx. $5 billion on programs for the homeless.

It’s not cheap to ignore our homeless brothers & sisters. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, “In 2001, a University of Pennsylvania study that examined 5,000 homeless people with mental illnesses in New York City found that they cost taxpayers an average of $45,000 a year for their use of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, shelters, & prisons.”

Additionally, homeless individuals with mental illnesses, especially those with psychotic features, become easy targets for victimization. “A study on homeless women in Baltimore found that nearly one third of the women had been raped.” I know, painful to even acknowledge.



As I mentioned previously, individuals experiencing long-term homelessness incur great public costs. However, studies have shown that permanent supportive housing largely or totally offsets these costs while ending homelessness.


Housing First places individuals & families into permanent housing first, then addresses their ailments & unemployment issues. It does so as quickly as possible while providing a standard lease agreement with no stipulations. Various services are delivered as needed to provide optimum stability. This is how Salt Lake City reduced its homeless population by 72% since 2005. It was also the second U.S. city to successfully end veteran homelessness.

Although, program standards vary drastically depending on the population served. And for those who have experienced chronic homelessness, it’s likely that intensive or even specialized services will be needed indefinitely. However, those who’ve fallen into homelessness out of personal crisis will not. The Housing First approach is ideal for those individuals & families, & it saves the system a substantial amount of money. To learn more about Housing First, visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness.


This is an intervention that provides temporary financial assistance & services to quickly return people experiencing homelessness back to permanent housing. It is also offered stipulation-free & the services offered are unique to each household’s needs. To learn more about Rapid Re-Housing, visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

*The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a great resource for staying up-to-date on the latest legislation, policies, & how to get involved!

Improved prevention strategies are being implemented at service systems in which many homeless individuals come in contact with before becoming homeless in the first place. These will focus on people leaving hospitals, psychiatric facilities, substance abuse facilities, jails, & prisons.


Look, I know there’s not a simple solution. {Or is there?} I know that I’m likely not seeing the whole picture. I also know that there’s a lot more to consider than what I’ve touched on in this brief post. However, I’ve been frustrated & fearful for a very long time & I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer. Seeing that my latest prescription is over $1,000 made my blood boil! I immediately thought of all the people who couldn’t afford it. Well heck, I couldn’t afford it without insurance!. . .


See the person, not the illness.

You’ve probably already seen this awesome comic from Robot Hugs, but it deserves to be seen again & again.

As you fall asleep tonight, in your warm cozy bed, consider just one dear soul who isn’t as fortunate. Don’t be so quick to judge, as mental illness & homelessness can affect any one of us. If you think you’re immune, you’re fooling yourself. Though some possess more risk factors than others, mental illness can strike at any age & any time in our lives. Even if you’re not personally affected, there’s someone close to you who is.

Be Part of a Supportive Community, Free from Judgment

The Sunny Shadow Bipolar Support Group

Join The Sunny Shadow Bipolar Support Group: //

A closed Facebook group exclusively for people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 {800} 273- TALK {8255}

What are your thoughts on the link between Homelessness & Mental Illness? Leave a Comment…

Krista-Lee-Pfeiffer :: Blogger & Creator of


    1. Kathryn,

      Yes, it is a heavy topic but it’s been weighing on me for a long time. Your girlfriend has shown another example of how homelessness is an expensive problem to have. Who’s paying for their hospital treatments/stays?? Thank you so much for sharing that here.

      Have a great week!

  1. One thing that has really helped me to have a more sympathetic view towards people with a mental illness was my husband. When he was younger he had some minor issues and has experienced homelessness. Listening to what he has experienced and what it took to help him has really opened my eyes.
    Jennifer S. recently posted…I Peter 5:7My Profile

    1. Jennifer,

      Goodness. So sorry your husband has experienced homelessness. Glad he is doing well now & I imagine that experience has made him stronger. Again, even though you are not personally affected you are close to someone who has been. Most of us are, whether directly or indirectly, affected by mental illness in some way. Why is there still so much stigma?? Mind-blowing.

      Thank you so much for commenting. Have a great week!

  2. Homelessness and Mental Illness go hand in hand. The ones with the mental illness can’t handle social situations sometimes and the ones without can’t handle those with. It is sad! I have a couple people in my family who has a mental illness. Although they don’t want you to walk egg shells around them, I still feel like I need to. I don’t want them to have a meltdown (oldest son) or get upset. It’s just a really delicate situation
    Jennifer recently posted…TobyMac ” This Is Not A Test” Album Review And GiveawayMy Profile

    1. Jennifer,

      I’m sorry to hear that you have family members battling mental illness, however most of us are affected by it in one way or another. Like you with your family. One would think with such a prevalence there wouldn’t still be such a stigma… you’re exactly right, it’s sad.

      My husband & I were once in a similar situation as you. He walked on egg shells around me. I’m not even beginning to act like I fully understand the dynamics of your family. But we both had to get healthier, less co-dependent, for that to change.

      I wish you & your family the best. Hope your family members are able to get the mental health care that they need. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!
      Thank you so much for your comments. Have a great week!

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