Survey of Cities Shows Increases in Homeless Population Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol and Mentally Ill

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Since Jan. 1, 1990, there has been a 7% increase in the number of homeless mentally ill persons and a 9% hike in the number of homeless who are both severely mentally ill and addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs, according to a 22-city survey released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors Nov. 8.

The survey estimated that about one-third of the homeless population suffers from severe mental illness, and an average of 45% of those who are homeless and mentally ill also are addicted to drugs and alcohol. The questionnaire did not seek to determine the number of alcoholics and addicts without mental illness, although in response to an open-ended question it was revealed that nearly one-fourth of the cities reported alcohol and drug abuse -- apart from mental ilness -- was a primary cause of homelessness.

Assembling data from major cities whose mayors serve on the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, the survey found that while requests for emergency shelther by mentally ill persons have increased, there has been a net decrease in the number of shelter beds available to them. Mentally ill persons seeking shelter or other emergency housing are turned away by facilities in two out of three of the cities in the survey.

"We all know the homeless have virtually no political power and the homeless mentally ill have even less," said Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, President of the Conference of Mayors. The cuts that have been made in mental health programs by the states, Flynn said, have "resulted in a situation in which homeless shelters and city streets have become 'de facto mental institutions' of the 1980's and 1990's."

Among findings of the survey:

+ Nine out of ten of the survey cities expect that the number of homeless mentally ill will continue to increase through the end of 1992.

+ Lack of affordable housing was identified most frequently as a primary cause of homelessness among mentally ill persons with 18 cities citing it. Eight cities cited mental illness itself as a primary cause of homelessness, while five cities reported alcohol and drug abuse as a primary cause.

+ Requests for emergency shelter by homeless mentally ill persons have increased by 35% -- a much higher rate than the 7% growth reported in the general population. …

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