Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: Study finds changing perception of homelessness in US

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: Study finds changing perception of homelessness in US

People have become more compassionate and accommodating to homelessness in the past two decades, revealed a recent study by researchers at the Yale University. The findings are based on a survey that mapped what people of America think of homelessness. Also, the researchers compared the results with studies conducted during the 1990s.

The recent study, published in the American Journal of Community Psychology in October 2017, revealed that Americans acknowledge homelessness as an outcome of external factors like economy. This is a significant shift in the perception of the people, who attributed homelessness to internal factors like laziness and/or irresponsible behavior 20 years ago. Moreover, the present population of the country was more willing to support efforts such as affordable housing and government funding to help the homeless. The largest change in people’s attitude was observed in the form of an increased support to homeless individuals’ right to take shelter, sleep and panhandle in public spaces.

“A lot of services for homeless people are funded by public dollars, so [funding] really depends on how supportive the public is… We thought that at some point [support] would plateau, but there seemed to be even more support than two decades ago,” said Jack Tsai, lead author of the study.

Tsai credited the efforts by the Bush administration and the initiatives by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for bringing about a change in public perception about the homelessness. In recent years, organizations have been working proactively with police, housing services, local hospitals and support services to deal with the problem.

To bring together like-minded people to address to the crisis, the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is observed every year in November from 11-19. The event, which was first organized at Villanova University in 1975, intends to educate public and develop a base of volunteers and supporters to address the problem. Activists spend this week creating awareness about hunger and homelessness through a series of events to engage the communities.

Homelessness and mental health problems

The Yale study also indicated a significant variance between public’s perception of the demographics of homeless people and its actual prevalence. While Americans who were surveyed predicted a mental illness in 45.5 percent of homeless people, the actual figures reported the same in 86.8 percent individuals battling homelessness. The findings of the survey also suggested gaps in public awareness about homeless population. The participants were found to be ignorant that homeless population included older, uneducated and white Americans and that they had families and were affected by substance abuse and related mental health problems.

Therefore, it is important to address mental health illnesses and substance abuse in the homeless population. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, nearly 30 percent people with chronic homelessness experienced a serious mental illness while around two-thirds of them had a primary substance use disorder. Homelessness and mental health problem constitute a vicious cycle as people with mental and/or substance use disorders are more likely to become homeless. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an estimated 202,297 people experiencing homelessness have a severe mental illness or a chronic substance use disorder.

Notably, mental disorders are treatable with timely medical intervention. You can make your contribution to a social cause by helping someone suffering from any mental illness. Contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to help people battling substance abuse as well as mental health problems. Call us at our 24/7 Mental Health Helpline number 855-653-8178 to know about a reputed mental health rehab center near you. You can also chat online to know more about the best rehab centers in your vicinity.