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February 27, 2013

ANDERSON: Debunking the myths: Homelessness in our area

(Continued)

The remaining 49 people were from “everywhere else.” So the answer is no.

 

They are all mentally ill or drug addicted.

No, they aren’t. Of the 1,549 served last year, 480 were children, none of whom fit the labels above. It is amazing, but 239 of those children were under the age of 5.

Those with alcohol/drugs as a declared issue or one we identified totaled 356; many of those had received treatment or were in the process before or after their entry into the shelter. 

Physical health issues of a catastrophic nature numbered 473. By catastrophic, I mean severe physical health problems like untreated diabetes (one man lost five toes, another woman lost a leg). We buried nearly 10  people last year due to cancer, heart failure, kidney failure; only one of those was mentally ill, and only one took too much medication. 

The physical health issues far outweigh the mental health issues. That is not to say there is no need for mental health services. Those who are not diagnosed with a mental illness or an addictions issue are the ones we identify easily, and those who are experiencing episodic depression due to their current living condition more than warrants mental health services.

The chronically mentally ill represent a relatively small percentage of those we served, totaling 129, but they required intensive work and caused much consternation for those in the shelter — both residents and staff.

Of the numbers listed above, many cross lines or would be considered dual diagnosed. More than 68 percent of those we served would be considered people who have experienced poverty through job loss, unemployment, domestic violence, natural disaster, fire or death of a family member. 

 

If they would just work or get a job then they could do it themselves.

Wrong. Many are employed (about 53 percent) but work part-time or day labor with no hope of earning more without further training or assistance. Another 16 percent receive Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income ($794 per month). 

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