Reducing Homelessness after Psychiatric Inpatient Discharge

Rates of mental illness are extremely high among the homeless population. One reason for this is the inability of psychiatric clients to access and secure affordable housing. For clients who receive inpatient mental health care, the need for adequate housing is pressing. Many of these individuals do not have a safe and secure home to return to, do not have the financial resources to obtain housing on their own and do not possess the cognitive faculties to seek out proper housing. When they are discharged and become homeless, the risk of relapse, readmittance, and further mental deterioration increases. Negative psychological outcomes associated with homelessness among psychiatric clients include substance abuse, depression, violence, and victimization. Additionally, mental health clients who are homeless have increased risk of physical illnesses including influenza, asthma, diabetes, and HIV.

In a recent study, Cheryl Forchuk of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Western Ontario wanted to test measures to decrease this dilemma among psychiatric inpatient clients. She assessed the discharge process and housing situations of 32 inpatient clients from tertiary sites and 219 from acute care sites. She also looked at what procedures were in place to assist these individuals before and after discharge and how the staff responded to this responsibility. Forchuk found that implementing a housing assistance program drastically decreased the homelessness of the clients.

Overall, the parties involved in the process, including the clients, the housing service providers, and the hospital staff members were all very satisfied with the housing intervention. Not only was the intervention delivered smoothly, but it also allowed staff to identify which clients faced psychological barriers and which faced financial barriers to housing. The clients reported higher levels of independence because they were immediately offered resources for housing and did not have to schedule later appointments with housing assistance advocates. For the acute care clients, the intervention did address most of their needs. However, Forchuk noted that housing personnel should be available seven days a week, as many clients were discharged on the weekend and had to come back during the week to meet with an advocate. Regardless of this weakness, Forchuk believes her research shows the numerous benefits housing programs in psychiatric facilities. She said, “This study demonstrated that an intervention to reduce homelessness that connects housing support, income support, and psychiatric care is both well received and effective.”

Forchuk, Cheryl, et al. (2013). Preventing homelessness after discharge from psychiatric wards: Perspectives of consumers and staff. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services 51.3 (2013): 24-31. ProQuest. Web.

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  • geoffrey

    April 29th, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    not having this basic need fulfilled can be depressing.and with nothing to protect yourself from in the form of a house,this depression can quickly addition it leaves these people vulnerable to various illnesses.economic standing has unfortunately become the yardstick by which people are treated and that day may not be too far when the rich continue to live while the poor die.

  • Alton

    April 29th, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    Wonderful idea- hope that this begins to expand because there sure are a whole lot of people who could really benefit from this kind of intervention and care.

  • LOU

    April 29th, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    Not only does lack of housing make them more vulnerable to mental illnesses and the poverty make them unable to seek help but the illnesses also do not allow them to make things better for themselves. This is tragic and becomes a cycle that can be very hard to break. Kudos to this program for taking the issue up and coming out with a viable solution. Hope to see his implemented far and wide but I’m not sure how much the funding can be stretched.

  • Irene

    April 30th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    I would love to know about the long term ramifications of this program. Is there a whole lot of follow up? Does this last for several months or is this something that is showing promise over the long haul?

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