I have decisions to make.
Do I want another cup of coffee? What do I want for lunch? Which message will I return first? What am I going to be doing this weekend?
However many of my friends don’t get to make any choices. Because of severe mental health challenges, some of my friends can’t comprehend the choices that we make. Nor can they function in a world that demands choice and action.
The majority of the people we serve at OurCalling make choices every day. They choose when to come, if they want to attend a Bible study, meet with a chaplain, or read the Bible. They also choose whether to eat a meal, ask for a change of clothes or take a shower. The choice to seek help is a privilege that not every homeless person in Dallas has.
The homeless community has a pandemic of mental health challenges. For those with severe illness, they have no choice. The task of accepting help, is bound by an illness that does not allow them to grasp the services they desperately need.
The homeless community of Dallas is suffering a mental health crisis.
In the 2014, a national survey of homelessness concluded that 28 percent of homeless adults (in their study) were severely mentally ill. Dallas reported 43 percent of our homeless are severely mentally ill.( The 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness)
If this statistic is correct, four out of every ten homeless individuals in Dallas are severely mentally ill. I personally believe that if we consider the unsheltered homeless (those whom OurCalling focuses on) the rate is much higher. Those in shelters, hospitals and even jail are usually more stable than those sleeping outside. At OurCalling, we count 80% of the entire homeless population in Dallas as unsheltered. I believe that the rate of those with severe mental illness is closer to eight out of every ten within the unsheltered homeless population in Dallas.
With this growing trend, shouldn’t we recognize this need and apply adequate state funding to address this? However, Texas is number 48 in per-capita spending on mental health among US states. (bottom of the list is NOT good)
But what do we excel at? Poverty.
- Dallas is Number 1 in child poverty rate among cities larger than 1 million people.
- Dallas is Number 2 in the largest growth in poverty rate
- Dallas is Number 3 in the worst overall poverty rate
High levels in severe mental health combined with the highest poverty rates in the country is a recipe for disaster. Serving on the streets of Dallas, we are in the middle of it. And there isn’t a sign of relief.
- What about housing first? Most housing options in Dallas don’t provide adequate support services – especially for those with severe mental illness. In fact, the push for rapid rehousing is outpacing ALL support services. The scattering and isolation of these relocation programs are causing devastating results. Imagine the chaos when someone with severe mental illness gains their own apartment (with no food, furniture or hygiene) and only has a case worker visit once a month?
- What about the shelters? All of the shelters in Dallas face this tough reality every day. Most offer clinic referrals and access to healthcare, however no shelter is equipped for the most severe cases.
- What about the hospitals? Our experience (over 14 years) has been loads of frustration as individuals are discharged with medications and plans yet don’t have the capacity or accountability to follow through.
- What if they resist? Healthcare can’t be forced (and shouldn’t be). Anyone can voluntarily resist treatment. Even if their situation and condition is detrimental to their survival, they can’t be forced to accept treatment.
- What about the mental health clinics and psych hospitals? Mental Healthcare providers are slammed with requests, but do not have adequate resources to meet the growing needs. Now that Timberlawn lost federal funding, there aren’t many viable alternatives.
Can we dream?
– I would love to see a mental health crisis team that would accompany us under bridges or in wooded encampments.
– Imagine a mental health clinic where we could take the most severe cases to a Psychological Emergency Room, bypass long lines and take someone directly in for treatment.
– Dream about dispensing psych meds in smaller controlled doses through vending machines placed throughout the city. Biological scanners (fingerprint, face recognition) or IDs could be used. Smaller dosages makes it easier to manage, easier to replace if lost or stolen, more difficult to sell, and easier to track the whereabout of the patients. Smaller dosages also help prevent psychological episodes when an individual has been off-meds for an extended period of time.
– Imagine having access to every mental health provider on a smart phone app (wait – we already did that! Download the OurCalling App )
I meet with Directors of many different ministries that struggle with this issue. How can we meet the spiritual and physical needs of the community, when their health needs aren’t being adequately addressed? How can we expect someone to recover from physical scars and addiction when the mental wounds run deep? What is the role of the Church in this process and how can ministries get better equipped to address this challenge?
Pray for our friends struggling with mental illness. There is no easy solution. They need medical treatment, a relationship with the Lord, and a Church loving them well.