A 2007 survey of 23 cities — conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors — revealed 30% of the homeless population have a mental illness. According to the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, approximately 60% of chronically homeless people in the Detroit area have underlying issues of mental illness and/or substance abuse.
Mental disorders prevent people from doing everyday things like going to work and school or taking care of a home and family. The closings of psychiatric hospitals over several years, diminishing community-based programs and outpatient services, and a lack of affordable housing options leave the mentally ill with no place to go and no hope of getting better. Many are distrustful or too afraid to seek help and react irrationally toward those trying to help. This pushes them into a life on the streets. The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) reaches out to those with mental health issues by partnering with other agencies such as the Detroit Health Department to provide medical and social services assistance to some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
A movie depicting mental health issues among the homeless opens in theaters later this month. “The Soloist” is based on a true story and features actor Jamie Foxx as a brilliant musician suffering from mental illness and homelessness. He is befriended by a Los Angeles Times columnist, played by Robert Downey Jr., who helps him fulfill his dreams. The movie promises to show how a seemingly hopeless life can be altered for the better.
Although there are many reasons why individuals end up living on the streets, mental illness is prevalent among the homeless population. People with mental disorders require ongoing access to treatment and rehabilitation services. They are human beings who should be treated with dignity and respect. As represented in “The Soloist,” many homeless people already have amazing skills that just need to be nurtured and enhanced. They simply require our support and encouragement.