Mental Health and Our Homeless Population

Shadow Girl


I never realized the impact mental health issues had on diverse groups of people for a long time. I believed that mental illness was as elusive as a disease that effected the elderly. I learned differently over the course of many years and took what I had researched and applied it to real life.

I started volunteering for a homeless shelter in 2010 that was located in Patterson, California. Patterson is primarily an agricultural community with a population of nearly 20,000. In a recent article written in the local newspaper; Patterson Irrigator it was reported that the population of homeless ranged between 50 and 80 people.

Law enforcement is quick to point out the impact of drug addiction on this population. I do not dispute this. I worked directly with the majority of the people counted as statistics in the newspaper article. There were severe cases that required intervention and treatment but the majority of people were just lost and needed to be motivated. There are those who suffered with mental health issues prior to becoming homeless and then there are those who are perpetuated into mental illness because of their living situations.

When a person becomes hopeless it leads to not caring which leads to giving up.

Addiction VS Mental Health

My theory involves treating the mental illness in order to help homeless abusers who self-medicate themselves. Studies have pointed to a majority of alcohol and drug addicts who also suffer from untreated mental illnesses. By treating the true cause, a person is given a more authentic chance at successful recovery and ultimately a more meaningful life.

It seems like an easy fix. Treat mental health issues, present solutions to homelessness and watch success. Unfortunately, there are many different mental illnesses and the process to treatment can be lengthy and requiring of patience. I witnessed a lot of frustration and embarrassment in diagnosis and treatment. Yep, even our homeless population has pride. The misconceptions of mental health and the word “crazy” still resonates as negative to some. Refusal of treatment and denial of mental health issues was another common thread.

How to Help

For me, the hardest thing to STOP doing was giving change to those who asked. For a long time I didn’t care where the money went. I told myself that if a person down on their luck needed to use alcohol or drugs to escape their reality, it was alright. I learned differently after volunteering.

There are many different organizations that help our homeless population. Organizations like National Association of Mental Illness, who offer services and resources for all people suffering with mental health issues. Local organizations, food pantries and larger organizations are working hard at providing necessities for those in need.

Nowadays, if I run across someone asking for change; I direct them to nearby organizations, churches and facilities that are there to help ease the hardship. Sometimes, it breaks my heart to keep my change. I’ll get over it. I know It’s the right thing to do.