How can we end homelessness for people with serious mental illnesses?

Research has provided much information about what services and practices are effective in ending homelessness for people with serious mental illnesses. Key findings show:

  • Outreach, whether in shelters or on the street, is effective. Given the opportunity, most homeless people with serious mental illnesses are willing to accept treatment and services voluntarily. Consistent outreach and the introduction of services at the client’s pace are key to engaging people in treatment and case management services. A consistent, caring, personal relationship is required to engage people who are homeless in treatment.
  • Integrated mental health and substance abuse treatment provided by multidisciplinary treatment teams can improve mental health, residential stability, and overall functioning in the community. Regular assertive outreach, lower caseloads, and the multidisciplinary nature of the services available from these teams are critical ingredients that lead to positive treatment and housing outcomes.
  • Supportive services to people in housing have proven effective in achieving residential stability, improving mental health, and reducing the costs of homelessness to the community. Supported housing is preferred by many homeless people with serious mental illnesses. Many people who are homeless with serious mental illnesses can move directly from homelessness to independent housing with intensive support and attention.
  • Prevention. Homelessness among people with serious mental illnesses can be prevented. Discharge planning that helps people who are leaving institutions to access housing, mental health, and other necessary community services can prevent homelessness during such transitions. Ideally, such planning begins upon entry into an institution, is ready to be implemented upon discharge, and involves consumer input. Providing short-term intensive support services immediately after discharge from hospitals, shelters, or jails has proven effective in further preventing recurrent homelessness during the transition back into the community.

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