The Relationship Between Homelessness and Mental Health

Homelessness. A topic we generally try to avoid, dismissing the people on the side of the street as lazy drug addicts who got themselves into their situations. While this may be true, have you ever thought of homelessness as a cry for help from the mentally ill?

Last year, San Francisco spent $214 million dollars on housing and treatment for the homeless. However, most of this was spent on the formerly homeless or those at risk, not the people currently living on the streets. Many people don’t seek help from shelters since the rules can be restrictive and the space itself can be very crowded.


So What Can We Do?

I propose that a volunteer organization be started that actively goes to parts of cities where the homeless congregate and give them help. These organizations would have to be very friendly and empathetic, but also understand and be okay with the fact that there are some people out there who just refuse help. This would create accessibility and hopefully get the homeless to agree to continue seeking help. Lots of the problem is that people living on the streets don’t know where the shelters are and don’t trust them. By going out and seeking the homeless, the organization is regulating how many people they can help at a time and therefore being able to give the right amount of attention to each person. I think this would be effective in getting people off the streets.


Insider Perspective: Working at a Nonprofit for the Homeless

Meet Sonja Fitz. She was an English major at the University of California, Berkeley, and took on a job at BOSS for some money to pay for tuition. She ended up sticking with the company because she loved it so much. She’s been working there for 23 years. BOSS helps people who are struggling through hard times, whether it be homelessness, unemployment, or mental health issues.

  • Challenges of her job:
    • finding suitable jobs for people with low skills or disabilities
    • finding affordable housing for the extremely poor
    • engaging people in services whose illnesses/disabilities make it hard for them to interact socially
    • avoiding burning out from working in such a mentally draining field
  • What does BOSS provide?
    • Special needs housing (shelter or permanent supportive housing)
    • Medications monitoring in BOSS housing
    • Peer support groups, life skills groups, socialization
    • Clinical case management for people coming out of hospitals or institutions to help them reintegrate in the community
    • Employment assistance, including a partnership with a local program for the mentally ill


How Can I Help?

  • Volunteer! Look for an organization in your city whose values line up to yours and ask them if they need help.
  • Carry care packages in your car. Homeless people often don’t have things that we take for granted. This doesn’t even necessarily have to include food. Things like socks and feminine products can make a huge difference. In these packages also write down some local shelters and their phone numbers and addresses. This is crucial since this could be the permanent help they need to get back on their feet.
  • Making knowledge more accessible. Hold fundraisers like car washes and bake sales for volunteer organizations serving the mentally ill. You could invite a speaker to your school, or share information about a specific organization on your social media. Try putting posters/infographics up at school. Get creative!


I chose this topic because, to put it bluntly, my parents are very judgemental of the homeless. They both came to America with nearly nothing and equate their success to hard work and determination. I wanted to shed light to this topic that many of us don’t talk about. I go to an indoor facility to play softball sometimes, and it’s in a really run-down industrial part of San Jose. Driving there, there are always rows of tents on the side of the street. Often, we have to stop the car for some people having a conversation in the middle of the street. To us, it’s a hassle and my dad always mutters about them staying off the roads, but to these people, it’s their home. Some of the homeless people are walking around talking to their neighbors, while others are curled up in a ball, covered with tattered blankets. This has prompted me to research about mental health for the homeless since it’s such a deep and complex issue. I hope that I’ve helped you understand this subject a little more during my presentation.


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