Helping the chronically homeless means more than putting a roof over their heads to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness program is also helping people enroll in benefits programs and get treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems, according to an article on the SAMHSA website.
In the article, Jayme S. Marshall, MS, chief of the homeless programs branch in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, said there’s a big overlap between chronic homelessness and mental health and substance use disorders. “Sometimes people develop an addiction or mental illness and become homeless because of that,” Marshall said. “Other times, the homelessness really leads to the addiction or the mental illness, because living on the streets or in homeless shelters can be very traumatizing.”
Marshall said behavioral health disorders can keep people from forming and maintaining stable relationships with family members and others who could help shelter them. People experiencing homelessness may even push away outreach workers and others trying to help them, she said. “It can be very difficult to build trust and engage individuals who have been out in the streets or living in places that aren’t meant for human habitation,” Marshall said in the article.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, about 30% of people experiencing chronic homelessness have a serious mental illness. Approximately two-thirds have a primary substance use disorder or some other chronic health condition. These problems can make it hard for people to get — and keep — stable housing.
The federal government defines chronic homelessness as more than a year of homelessness or at least four periods of homelessness over the course of three years. The PATH program focuses on reaching out to homeless individuals and engaging them in services. Other SAMHSA programs ensure those services are there whenever people need them, according to the article. The Cooperative Agreements to Benefit Homeless Individuals for States program helps states coordinate their efforts and develop the infrastructure they need to develop or expand services.
Rural states provide a challenge in that the problem can be more hidden, Merritt E. Moore, MA, LPC, NCC, CCADC, statewide PATH coordinator in West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources, said in the article. “We have a lot of people doubled up or living in trailers without utilities,” he said.
Moore said PATH emphasizes housing first, a shift from past efforts in which people underwent treatment to receive housing. “Many of these folks aren’t ready for treatment at this point or aren’t amenable,” he said in the article. “Homelessness is a trigger for mental illness and substance use, so the mere fact that we find them housing and support is very helpful.”
To comment, email [email protected]