Homelessness and mental illness go hand in hand
I was in a downtown mall, taking the escalator to a lower floor and a haggard, rough-looking young man stopped at the bottom. He looked up at me, and when I approached, he said:
“Why are you following me?”
It seemed strange, even ridiculous that someone would say that. I simply replied, “I am nobody.” But he remained standing in the same place, staring at me until I was out of sight. I understood what was happening. I live with schizophrenia.
This kind of thing has been happening more and more in recent years, and the global pandemic has not improved the situation. According to CAMH websiteup to 25 to 50 percent of homeless people in Canada have a mental illness.
When a person is homeless, it is extremely difficult for them to find treatment for a mental health problem. The end result is that these people become chronically homeless and chronically mentally ill.
The longer a person is homeless, the more likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol. More than 28% of people who reported six months or more of homelessness in the past year also addiction and substance use disorderswhich in itself is a major cause of homelessness.
Homelessness is a revolving door situation that can no longer be ignored. More than 200 people in Toronto died of homelessness last year, more than double the deaths in 2017. Meanwhile, in a few cities across the United States and in Medicine Hat, Alberta, new strategies have effectively ended chronic homelessness.
medicine hat achieved this incredible goal by being part of “Built for Zero Canada”, a national movement working to end chronic homelessness and veterans, powered by “The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness”.
What this city of 63,000 did was count its homeless population and add their names to a database that allowed it to track strategies and policies in near real time, to allocate resources where they would be most effective. Since 2009more than 1,323 people were housed, including 358 chronically homeless.
It is estimated that homelessness could be eradicated in Canada at the cost of 4 billion dollars per year. It sounds like an astronomical amount, but the truth is that homelessness costs Canadians up to $7 billion a year in providing community services, shelters, emergency services, health care and criminal justice system.
This means that using proven strategies to end homelessness would be one of the best investments our government could make. In Canadamore than 235,000 people are homeless in any given year, with 25,000 to 35,000 people going homeless every night.
And as for the young man waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator? As a young and young person with a mental health problem, the situation for him is even more serious than for most. Youth often become homeless after many years of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse. Another major reason why young people become homeless is gender issues.
While young people are homeless, rates of substance abuse are 11 times higher among men and 17 times higher among women than among housed peers. These substance use problems increase the risk of infectious diseases, substance abuse, mental health problems, sexual exploitation, overdose, criminal behavior and violence related to drug trafficking.
In the end, difficult to know what to do. One year, for Christmas, I wanted to give my sister a special present. I gave him 10 Tim Cards at $6 to “make the gift of giving”.
Considering that housing has been declared a human right in Canada since 1976, when our government ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it is essential to demand change, in our time, from our leaders and our community service organizations, and to never forget that the homeless are just people like us, like our loved ones and are no different from our own children.