In the first of a series of articles, Kim Horner of The Dallas Morning News looks at the struggle of helping the chronically homeless. The series will look at the costs of inadequate treatment for mental illness and addiction, as well as possible solutions. The project received support from The Carter Center.
Though chronic homelessness is a nationwide problem, Texas falls behind most states in providing care at psychiatric hospitals and mental health clinics. That lack of commitment results in overflowing facilities and poor follow-up care that can set up the most vulnerable patients for failure.
Horner reports that the system of psychiatric hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, mental health clinics and housing programs isn’t working for most of the chronically homeless. “That failure not only perpetuates homelessness but ends up costing taxpayers millions for law enforcement, emergency care and other expenses that could be avoided.”
Chronically homeless people often do not follow through with their care and cannot properly care for themselves, leading them to return to treatment repeatedly. A hospital superintendent says failure to take medications is the top reason people are readmitted to his hospital.
The article does look at proposed solutions to the problem of homelessness. One answer – supported by experts nationwide – is to establish special apartments coupled with intensive mental health services to keep people stable.
Jill Maddox, psychiatrist at the Center for Urban Community Services and the Project for Psychiatric Outreach to the Homeless, speaks about mental health issues in urban areas at the 2007 Urban Health Journalism Workshop.