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About schizophrenia and homelessness

Updated March 23, 2017

Mental illness is one of the main contributors to homelessness. Schizophrenia and homelessness are dual conditions that plague nearly every industrialised country in the world. In the United States, cities began to see a rise in homeless people who suffer from schizophrenia when mental institutions lost funding and began turning mental patients onto the streets. The crisis is compounded by the fact that many schizophrenics are drug addicts and/or alcoholics. Treatment is difficult, if not impossible, and funding is a continuing issue. With the challenges of treatment, increased legal issues, schizophrenics' tendency toward violence and the fact that mentally ill homeless remain homeless longer than the general homeless population, homeless schizophrenics have become modern society's untouchables.

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In 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan became president of the United States, the Mental Health Systems Act became law. The act outlined guidance for mental health care. Newly inaugurated Regan nullified the law and recommended cutting funding to the nation's mental health hospitals. But the trend toward deinstitutionalisation began much earlier in the twentieth century. In the early 1950s, the drug Thorazine was introduced to people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. When institutionalised patients appeared to respond favourably to the drug, they were released into their communities. Psychopharmacology could not guarantee these people jobs or housing. Homelessness and mental illness became tandem societal issues that have reached critical proportions in contemporary society.

Time Frame

A time line of social and governmental changes throughout the 1980s gives insight into a decade that witnessed a sharp rise on homelessness among the mentally ill. The following information is from the "Electronic Journal of Sociology" (1998), "Ronald Reagan and the Commitment of the Mentally Ill: Capital, Interest Groups, and the Eclipse of Social Policy," by Alexandar R. Thomas. Although homelessness was increasing before 1980, reductions in funding for mental illness created an influx of psychotic patients onto America's inner-city streets. Whereas inner cities had been places where low-income populations could afford to live, gentrification began to rise, leaving the poor with fewer housing alternatives. Interestingly, psychiatric services in hospitals increased in the 1980s. This was a result of the administration's support of businesses and their move toward profits. Unfortunately, only people with health insurance could afford psychiatric treatment in the for-profit hospitals. As the numbers of mentally ill homeless people grew, mental health workers supported involuntary commitment and in-patient care. Today, many mental hospitals have closed, and a continuing abdication of federal responsibility has led to increased numbers of schizophrenic homeless persons, increased violent crimes by these persons and deteriorating hope for the homeless in general and mentally ill homeless specifically.


The obvious effect of schizophrenia and homelessness is that severely mentally ill people are lost to the streets of American cities. These unfortunates are dangers to themselves and to others. More urgently, schizophrenic homeless persons are not receiving the kind of help that can radically improve their quality of life by giving them opportunities to get off the streets and into managed care. When their situations and the homelessness in general improve, society will improve as well. Incidents of increased violence by homeless schizophrenics are dangers to the whole of society. A more insidious danger is a general tendency to accept homelessness as a tolerable problem and somebody else's headache.


When the United States government--of, by and for the people--relinquished responsibility for people who suffer from mental illness and for programs that address homelessness, it disenfranchised an entire population. According to HealthMad.com, in 2007, approximately 200,000 people were schizophrenic and homeless. What has trickled down from the federal level is a passive society that accepts the disenfranchised mentally ill and homeless populations as sad facts of life. When the least of society are ignored and outcast, the whole of society suffers. Short-term avoidance translates to long-term crisis.


Entitlement programs must be revived. Mental health care cannot be a solely for-profit enterprise. Schizophrenic homeless persons need continuing care. This will require federal and local legislation mandating care and establishing task forces. Housing issues must be addressed for those who are mentally ill and homeless. For-profit mental health care needs regulations that require hospitals to adequately treat homeless schizophrenics and the poor who teeter on homelessness. Homelessness is not a crime, and its symptoms (loitering, for example) must be decriminalised. Finally, homelessness in America in all its permutations must be addressed by all levels of government and by society as a whole. Whether American citizens recognise it or not, avoidance of homelessness and mental illness have repercussions throughout society.

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About the Author

Alyson Paige

Alyson Paige has a master's degree in canon law and began writing professionally in 1998. Her articles specialize in culture, business and home and garden, among many other topics.

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