How Mental Health has Played a Huge Roll for those Experiencing Homelessness during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mental health is a prevalent issue for many people, and includes  individuals' emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It also affects how we think, feel, and act,and helps us determine how to handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is also essential at every stage of life, regardless of age and gender.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation of many individuals experiencing homelessness has gotten worse. Those experiencing homelessness are twice as likely to suffer mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, violence, and other forms of social dysfunction due to their living situations. Other factors associated with homelessness include those living in crowded areas with deplorable hygiene with an environment often located in a city that is polluted with trash. 

Experts say that people who sleep in shelters or on the streets already have a lower life expectancy, suffer from addiction, and have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk if they contracted the virus. Many homeless individuals living on the streets already have an underlying health condition that makes them more susceptible to various chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems. Thus, finding an urgent solution is crucial in saving those experiencing homelessness has become one of the priorities for many cities in the Bay Area.

Those experiencing homelessness don’t have the luxury to afford the best healthcare provider who could offer them the treatment they need for their illness or have doctors that can give a diagnostic test to determine whether or not they have contracted COVID-19. Hence, the homeless community is more likely to contract COVID-19 because they lack access to healthcare treatment.

Fortunately, San Francisco has already taken action in using preventive measures to help those experiencing homelessness who are currently suffering from various mental illnesses. The ongoing public-private collaboration to re-purpose vacant hotel rooms for vulnerable unhoused people. The newest of these facilities feature a staff with behavioral health training who can support patients experiencing homelessness in taking their medications and maintaining safe social distance. 

According to the UCLA Law Review, advocates for the homeless have shifted their focus to creating housing programs that would incorporate services for those suffering from mental disorders. Supportive housing comprises support services into affordable housing so that people have access to “decent, safe, affordable, community-based housing with flexible, voluntary support services designed to help the individual or family stay housed and live a more productive life in the community.”   

These advocates point out that the supportive housing program can provide community-based treatment and support services for homeless patients, which includes case management, substance abuse, mental health, counseling, and other services. 

Utilizing the supportive housing program found in community-based integrated treatment models is one of the best housing options for mentally ill individuals. In order to achieve this goal that resulted from the rise in the homeless population, there has to be a transition from those living in temporary shelters that are owned by the city to living in permanent housing that offers health and community support.  

Partnerships with private market apartment owners where the government and residents subsidize the rent have access to mobile or onsite services are one example. Each apartment unit might be buildings that are newly constructed or renovated structures from hotels, or it can be in existing affordable housing projects with supportive services for renters. This might also include a scatter-site approach, in which services are delivered to residents as part of a coordinated government health or social services program rather than being sponsored by the housing provider.

In order to provide a safe transition for those experiencing homelessness, city leaders must take drastic action in providing the necessities. When a city offers dedicated temporary housing, with adequate on-site mental health support services, for all those experiencing homelessness with severe mental illness for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can help alleviate the problems of sending those experiencing homelessness to hospitals, which would break the tipping point of storage capacity. 

Mental illness and homelessness will not take a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s essential for everyone, whether they’re experiencing it or not, to take action. By protecting our most vulnerable, especially those experiencing homelessness, society will safely transition back to everyday life before the pandemic while finding permanent solutions to help our neighbors who are homeless. 


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