Survey finds growing number of homeless are mentally ill

November 09, 1991|By Abiodun Raufu | Abiodun Raufu,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A growing number of homeless people are severely mentally ill and addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to a survey released yesterday.

The survey of 21 large cities, conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, found that 33 percent of the homeless in the study suffered from severe mental illness -- up 7 percent since January 1990 -- and that about half of them were addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The number of homeless suffering from both severe mental illness and drug addiction increased by 9 percent since January 1990, the mayors' group said.

Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, president of the group, blamed the problem on neglect and policies of the federal and state governments.

"Unless we make changes, I predict that the picture we will remember of America's cities in the '90s will be a bleak picture," he said. "It will be a picture of homeless, mentally ill people living on the streets and dying on the streets of cities across this country."

He urged that homelessness be made a federal priority. "We have to keep raising these issues because it is clear that no one else will," Mr. Flynn said.

"Have you heard any national candidate talk about the homeless lately in anything more than broad generalities? You haven't, and you won't unless we local political leaders speak up."

James Scheibel, mayor of St. Paul, Minn., and chairman of the conference's task force on hunger and homelessness, called for a renewed commitment to mental health care.

"I hope this report prompts all Americans to take a second look, a more understanding look, at the severely mentally ill people who live on their city streets," he said. "They are the most helpless of the homeless. Because their problems are more complex, the solutions to them must be more complex."

The 21 cities that took part in the survey included the nation's three largest -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Baltimore was not among the cities because Mayor Kurt Schmoke is not on the U.S. Conference of Mayors' task force on hunger and homelessness, a spokeswoman said.

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