Public health can be defined as the health of the entire population, more so the issues that the state takes so much interest in as to monitor, regulate, and promote. This definition encompasses all health problems that the entire population faces. Few issues are calamitous enough to affect people directly. Therefore, those that are pervasive enough to affect significant portions of specific populations are classified as public health concerns (van Wormer). Noteworthy in the definition is that it applies to the entire population. A population is a section or group of people that share the same characteristics and live in a certain area (Morrison). Moreover, homeless people qualify as a population since they share, among other traits, lacking a permanent residence. They also live in the same place: at temporary locations on different days. Therefore, a health problem that concerns homeless people qualifies as a public health issue. The current paper argues that the government and other stakeholders must work towards the eradication of homelessness in order to improve public health.
The provision of housing is, indeed, a public health solution, and it is dependent on showing clearly that mental health and homelessness have a positive correlation. Public health is an important issue for all audiences for several reasons. One is the scale on which these problems spread their effects. For an issue to fit the description of a public health challenge, it must have a significant portion in a population. In addition, public health concerns also offer an opportunity to improve individual lives. For instance, eradicating a public health problem in a section of the problem ensures that the remaining population is protected from the same, and life expectancy is improved. Therefore, the improvement of public health by solving the issues with the housing ownership situation in the nation is a step in the right direction.
Over and above the challenges posed by the lack of housing to public health, there is the inherent need for housing for all human beings. People have many rights that are recognized in local and international laws. Housing may not be explicitly recognized as such, but it is one of the basic human needs and, therefore, its importance cannot be overstated. Moreover, the United Nations Covenant on socio-economic and cultural rights recognizes that human beings deserve a decent standard of living for all people, for which housing is an inherent requirement. Notably, lack of suitable and affordable housing is a problem that arises due to different factors. Examples of such causative factors include disability and lack of financial income. Clearly, such factors are beyond the control of a victim, making the problem of homelessness inherently inevitable. Therefore, it is important to highlight and discuss it as this paper does, so that the authorities’ instructions become attentive to it and possibly initiate measures that will solve the same for those affected.
The statistics available reveal the extent to which mental health problems pervade the homeless population. For one, the homeless are predisposed to general health problems relative to the general population, with at least 73% of homeless people reporting significant health problems each year, reflected in women’s life expectancy for homeless, which stands at 43 years, significantly lower than the average national of 77 years (van Wormer). More specifically, the rate of mental health problem incidence rate among the homeless community stands at 80%. This is an inexplicably high rate of sickness, which indicates that there is a connection between mental health issues and homelessness. Therefore, this paper takes up the subject and explores all the factors that may lead to this relationship, with the final part demonstrating how tackling homelessness improves the rate of mental and, hence, public health.
The Relationship between Homelessness and Mental Health
Homelessness and mental health are two phenomena that intertwine on several fronts. One of the relating factors between the two is that mental illness affects vital abilities in human beings, creating conditions that may lead to homelessness. For instance, serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder hinder one’s capability to carry out duties such as caring for one’s self or working at all (Morrison). This means that such people are not able to take care of their households or even maintain their own jobs. Consequently, even people who previously had means of owning and maintaining homes are at heightened risk of losing their homes and joining the homeless (Miller).
In addition, such mental illnesses also affect the interpersonal interaction capacity of the mentally ill (Martinez and Burt). A mentally ill person will often react irrationally to situation, causing misunderstandings and conflict between them and other people. The ill, then, are unlikely to have and maintain stable relationships with caregivers and friends. These are the people who would take care of them, hence severing such relationships means that they are at higher risk of losing their dwelling places than the entire population. This predisposition often materializes into homelessness for the mentally ill at a higher rate than the normal population.
The state of homelessness increases the likelihood of contracting a mental illness among people and exacerbates all of the present ones. Resultantly, homelessness increases the likelihood of a healthy person getting a mental illness. For one, loss of his or her dwelling place is a highly destabilizing event (Library Index). It entails a sudden change of environment, changing from a stable environment with comforts to an unstable one that is filled with many hostilities. For instance, the lack of basic provisions such as food and clothing, on top of shelter, subjects the homeless people to high-stress levels. This stress affects such people psychologically, leading them to suffer such conditions as depression, which eventually result in mental illness (Gilmer et al.). In addition, a significant portion of the homeless people are war veterans. Such people are already prone to mental illnesses, given the circumstances of war and the prevalence of psychiatric conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The homeless are also highly exposed to drug and substance abuse, which is linked to mental illnesses. Owing to the frustrating life conditions that they have to deal with, they often turn to substance and drug abuse as a way to escape their reality (Bird et al.). After continued use, the people then get addicted to drugs and depend on them to function properly, with lack thereof leading to mental conditions. A combination of such problems as drugs, stress, and a hostile environment make it very difficult for a homeless person to secure a job or position that may help them rise above their level of homelessness. Moreover, while it is possible to cure mental illnesses with relative ease under normal circumstances, it is not so for homeless people (Woollcott). In the case that one manages to overcome these barriers and secure admission into a treatment facility for substance abuse or mental illness, completing treatment while homeless is quite difficult. Once someone has overcome a problem and then immediately goes back to being exposed to the factors that caused them the ailment, he or she shall have a higher likelihood of relapsing and restating the process all over again (“Mental Illness and Homelessness”).
The opponents of the hypothesis that the provision of housing to the homeless is equal to a contribution in the efforts against public health question the appropriateness of the description of mental illness among the mentally ill part of the population as public health. They argue that for a problem to qualify as a public health problem, it has to affect a significant proportion of the entire population (Miller). According to them, this is the only way that the problem would warrant state attention and resources on the scale that is deployed for public health problems in cities. Studies show that up to two million people are homeless by one definition or the other, at some point in time in the course of every year. In the United States, this comprises less than 1% of the entire citizen population. True to the sentiments of the opponents, this is a very small proportion of the entire citizenry, next to which it would seem insignificant (“Home”). Compared to the entire citizenship then, the number of the mentally ill homeless people is negligible, and, therefore, the sentiments of the opponents may seem true.
Several solutions have been proposed for adoption in different jurisdictions in attempts to solve the public health problem that is mental health problems among the homeless. In views of the risk factors that expose the homeless to mental problems and the mental health challenges that lead to homelessness, this paper proposes that the state implements supported housing projects. These are affordable housing areas supported by the government, in which the homeless people would settle in (Woollcott). Places in which housing solutions for public health problems had been implemented have been highly successful. For instance, Canada used a similar approach to tackle homelessness and alcohol abuse in parts given area in the country with high reported levels of success the same was sited (Gilmer et al.). The model proposed in this paper encompasses support from trained professionals who will offer support to the homeless in a bid to break the vicious cycle of homelessness and mental health by having the patients under observation after treatment to prevent a relapse.
Taking into consideration the interconnectedness between mental health and homelessness, one might state that by solving the latter, there will be an improvement in public health. To prove this argument, the paper established a strong connection between homelessness and mental health. Different researches reveal that homelessness contributes to mental illness, while the latter contributes to the former as well. It proves that, indeed, there is a self-perpetuating vicious cycle between the two phenomena. In light of this, the paper recommended that the state should construct housing areas to reduce homelessness and include professionals to help the settled homeless people avoid relapsing to mental illnesses.