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The number of homeless people in the nation has tripled on federal guidelines. The trend has been so dramatic that for the first time in recorded American history, the homeless population has more than surpassed the homeless during the Great Depression.
“It’s a disaster,” says Dr. Paul Stare, an associate professor of psychology at University of Texas at Austin. Stare is one of the nation’s leading experts on homelessness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that nearly 40 percent of Americans suffer from acute or chronic mental illness. This means their condition affects their daily living, relationships and other aspects of their lives. For example, they may have insomnia, depression, anxiety or anxiety symptoms during the day that result in them feeling tired or out of place during the night and may sleep for hours or even days. These problems can include homelessness.
Studies have shown that people with mental illness are more likely to go through the struggles of homelessness. Stare’s research on mental illness has helped lead to the first nationwide guideline on housing for people with mental illness.
Many people with mental illness have difficult lives. They often struggle financially, feel unable to leave their house and have to face the challenges of maintaining regular contact with friends and family. One in three homeless people suffer from substance abuse. The high prevalence of these conditions makes it difficult for them to access housing and support services.
But, Stare says, it’s not just that homeless people with mental illness receive fewer services than people with physical illnesses. When researchers focus on services, Stare says, they often fail to address the barriers faced by people with mental illness.
When Stare first came to UT Austin in 1988, he says housing for people with mental illness was virtually nonexistent. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when his job required him to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he says he would receive 10 to 20 calls a week from mental health care facilities. In the early 1990s, however, the number of people in such facilities began to climb.
That year, for example, he and his son, who was disabled from brain injuries, both received outpatient services. They received an additional 10 to 30 referrals on top of that. That helped, but no more than that and they didn’t have access to community or housing resources.
Now, he says, he receives thousands of calls every month seeking help with mental health issues.
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