Runaways, Mental Health, and Homelessness

Socially, people may be afraid of the homeless population. There are many people that believe that there is something severely psychologically wrong with homeless people. Some cities even criminalize homelessness.

Not all homeless people suffer mental illnesses, but they are more likely to develop mental and physical illnesses so we need to think about runaways and what happens to homeless people. How do we treat them? How should we treat homelessness? Sometimes, people that suffer from mental illnesses will end up in the homeless population.

Homelessness is a growing problem and affects all of us. Homeless people can come from all walks of life. Some have good families that worry about them. Others may not. We find mentally ill people walking the streets, runaways, and children. We find homeless people living in the streets, in bathrooms, on downtown benches, in tents close to busy traffic lights, in temporary shelters, and sleeping on their friend’s couch. Homelessness is a growing problem both in the United States and globally.

Both the homeless population and people with mental illnesses face stigmas and biases that may prevent them from asking for help. It is hard sometimes for anyone to ask for help. For someone with a mental illness to get up and go to a doctor may be impossible for them to accomplish on their own. The same is true for a homeless person. They probably do not have access to doctors, dentists, and mental health professionals. They probably can’t take a shower and get ready to go see a doctor because they do not have access to the simple things that they need.

Serious mental illness costs the United States an estimated $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually and only about 41% of persons with a disorder receive any treatment. Homeless people though are more concerned with where their next meal is coming from and where they will find a safe place to sleep than they are about getting to a doctor’s office.

Homeless people do not have access to medical care and experience higher rates of adverse physical and mental health conditions, suicides, substance abuse, and respiratory diseases. One in two homeless people are without shelter making them susceptible to extreme weather conditions. Many homeless youth have been found living in uninhabitable dwelling places. Many homeless people face depression because of the stigmas that people have about them.

Homeless people will have difficulty qualifying for and receiving public assistance because they have no address or access to communicate with service providers. There is much debate about whether or not treatment first or housing first is the best approach to ending homelessness. posted a study concluding that the treatment first approach gets people with substance abuse problems in treatment first but that the housing first approach costs less.

The housing first approach is not only more cost-effective but also a better approach to ending homelessness and the underlying issues that cause it. The housing first approach is a longer-lasting approach that enables homeless people and people with mental illnesses to access medical and mental health services.

Someone that is experiencing homelessness or a mental health episode may not be ready to ask for help or accept help right now, but next week or next month they may want help. I just can’t imagine trying to keep a doctor’s appointment if I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or where my next meal was going to come from, so I like the housing first approach is probably the best approach in most circumstances though sometimes treatment is needed right away to save someone’s life and should also be considered at the intake.

Most homeless people are men and a large number of them are under the age of 25. In January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America. Most were individuals (70%), and the rest were families with children. They lived in every state and territory, and they reflected the diversity of our country.

Specific subpopulations policymakers are concerned with include people in families with children (30%), unaccompanied youth (under age 25, 6%), people experiencing “chronic homelessness” belong to another group that is often singled out for attention (19%), and veterans (6%).

Risks of becoming homeless is significantly tied to gender, race, and ethnicity, and the biggest risks happens because of poverty. Males are far more likely (70%) to experience homelessness than their female counterparts.

Race is another significant predictor. Marginalized groups are more likely to be disadvantaged within the housing and homelessness spheres. Higher unemployment rates, lower incomes, less access to healthcare, and higher incarceration rates are some of the factors likely contributing to higher rates of homelessness among people of color.

Numerically, white people are the largest racial group within homelessness, however, racial groups are far more likely to experience homelessness as a result of segregation and discrimination in employment and housing. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have the highest rate of homelessness (109 out of every 10,000 people). Native Americans (45 out of every 10,000) and Black or African Americans (52 out of every 10,000). These rates are much higher than the nation’s overall rate of homelessness (18 out of every 10,000).

Children are often a priority for homeless services systems. As a result, families with children are least likely to be unsheltered, but runaways and young people not living with their families do not receive the same access to services.

It is estimated that unaccompanied youth make up 50% of the homeless youth population and they are unsheltered. 66% of all homeless people live with no shelter at all and often in places that are not meant for human habitation. Poverty is the highest risks factor that leads to homelessness.

SAMSHA’s national mental health statistics show that yearly, about 42.5 million (18.2%) American adults suffer from some mental illness. Approximately 9.3 million adults (4%) experience severe mental illness that interferes with their daily lives. Nearly half (45%) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for two or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity. Mood disorders affect about 20.9 million American adults (9.5%) with the median age being around 30 years old. Suicide rates in Wyoming are the highest in the U.S. while New Jersey has the rates for suicide. Depression, unshakeable feelings of dread, despair, loneliness, and hopelessness seem to be leading signs and causes of suicide. Schizophrenia affects about 2.4 million American adults (1.1%) in any given year (, 2021). The Pacific Northwest and the Midwest seem to suffer more from mental illness than other regions.

Racial profiling can traumatize people of color making their daily life experience different from Caucasians. Racial and ethnic minorities have less access to mental health services and may not receive the same level of care. Statista shows that as of April 2021, around 25.5% of U.S. black, non-Hispanic public health workers reported having depression in the past 2 weeks, while 32.4% of white, non-Hispanic health workers reported the same. The numbers may not be accurate because other populations are not included in the study and because some people such as homeless people, do not have access to care.


National Youth Crisis Hotline 800-448-4663

The Trevor Project: A leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. Need help? 1-866-488-7386 (24/7)

Runaway Services:

Runaway Hotline (All Calls are Confidential) 800-231-6946

Related Articles: Homeless People, Interview With A Homeless Couple, Fostered or Forgotten? , Our Words Matter.

November is national runaway month. (click to read)

Lynn’s Warriors offers Five Easy Steps:

1. Daily communication with your child

2. Build trust so your child will come to you about anything, including sexual dialogue and pornography they may see online.

3. Don’t over-react. Instead engage, educate and empower your child against predators.

4. Know everything about online platforms that your children frequent including FB, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Gaming Apps.

5. A MUST: Use safety filters on your children’s phones, tablets, laptops, computers and all digital devices in your home.

Click here to find more resources.

Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups in each state.  The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page.


All Answers Ltd. (2018). Comparison of the Housing First and Treatment First Methods of Reducing Homelessness. Retrieved from

CDC, (2020), Homelessness as a Public Health Law Issue, Center for Disease Control, Retrieved From,

Community Solutions, (2021), The Challenge, Homelessness is a problem that’s more costly to ignore than to solve. Homelessness is a complex, life-threatening problem. It can be solved — but only if systems are built to get to zero.  Retrieved From,, (2015), Mental Health Disorder Statistics,

Shi, L., & Singh, D. A. (2019). Essentials of the U.S. health care system with access (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. ISBN: 9781284156720.

State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Retrieved From,

Statista, (2021), Prevalence of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation in the past 2 weeks among public health workers in the United States as of April 2021, by race/ethnicity,

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