Fifty-three percent of Halifax's homeless population has been diagnosed with at least one form of clinical mental illness. Seventy-two percent have dealt with serious depression or anxiety, and 48 percent have seriously considered taking their own lives.Those are the findings catalogued in a report issued Tuesday by the Community Action on Homelessness. The findings are based on interviews with 158 homeless people (for the whole report, visit cahhalifax.org).
The bleak statistics apply to homeless youth as well, says Jean Hughes, a professor of nursing at Dalhousie University who studies homeless populations. Many youth are homeless due to abuse or poverty, but mental illness is also often a factor, as teens leave home because their mental health issues aren't understood or addressed.
Conditions at homeless shelters in Halifax can exacerbate mental health issues, says Claudia Jahn, director at Community Action on Homelessness. She describes a dorm-type atmosphere with 80 or more men, lights always on, fights, shrieking, drunken rages and police patrolling around the room. Those staying in the shelters a long time may develop serious anxiety or depression due to the environment, and some choose to "sleep alone, even in the snow, to get a break."
"When I am homeless, I don't even have a place to cry," one homeless teen told Hughes.
Hughes says that giving coins to panhandlers does in fact help them. Contrary to common belief, most teens only panhandle until they have enough money to survive for the day. Jahn says it may be good to take the time to stop and chat with a street person---all 158 people interviewed for the report said they had nobody to really talk to.
Society has wrongly accepted homelessness to be the status quo, says Jahn. "We need to form a public outcry against the crisis of homelessness."
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