Life never ceases with its teachable moments. I’m certainly not a know-it-all, but I believe I have a solid base on the issues surrounding homelessness in Colorado.
Well, on Nov. 17, I added another lesson to the mental Rolodex.
I spoke at the Denver Press Club alongside 9News’ Jeremy Jojola and Denver Voice’s Robert Davis for our discussion. During our “Changing the Way We Cover Homelessness” panel, we covered how our reports impact the way homelessness is discussed in society, how the media can better explain where money goes, different organizations that help with the issue, and more.
I live near downtown Colorado Springs, so I witness homelessness every day. But as the audience voiced their opinions and how it affects those whom they work with, I realized I’ve overlooked some points, including the mental health aspect.
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One lady explained that she has a child experiencing homelessness and how, for him, money is just one issue. She told us panelists and those at the Press Club that her son has schizophrenia and wanders from place to place each day.
She said mental institutions and homeless shelters cannot take him due to his behavior. We panelists spoke our piece and offered our well-wishes in hoping she’s able to aid him as necessary.
After the panel, I spoke with her, and she mentioned how former friends stopped speaking to her due to her son’s condition. Also, she said community members shunned her from church. It hurt my soul to hear her story and the fight she endures to assist her son.
Despite her struggles to find support for her child, she said she continues to ensure her son remains safe and calls Denver-area stores where he typically lingers. “A few of the stores have newer employees, so now I have to introduce myself to them and let them know why I’m calling all the time,” she said.
A mother’s love knows no bounds and this woman demonstrated that, through her dedication to her son. After our chat, I researched how many homeless people deal with mental illnesses, as our conversation piqued my curiosity. I’ve always understood that many homeless people suffer from mental illnesses, but I didn’t recognize the depth of the issue.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, from 2007 to 2012 people experiencing homelessness in Colorado hovered between 14,000 and 16,900. From 2013 to 2018 it remained between 9,000 and nearly 11,000. In 2019 and 2020, it was between 9,600 and 9,800.
In 2019, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless released a report that said, “Research shows that 71 percent of people experiencing homelessness have a mental illness or post-traumatic stress.”
Man, I recognized mental illness among homeless people was high, but damn! I had no clue nearly three-fourths of people battled those issues along with inadequate housing.
Research shows that 71 percent of people experiencing homelessness have a mental illness or post-traumatic stress.
– Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
I also thought that placing nearly 7,100 people with mental illnesses or PTSD in housing won’t solve much. Helping homeless people requires more than just getting them off the streets and in adequate housing.
On Nov. 1, Gov. Jared Polis said he wants to put $200 million toward homelessness for the 2022-2023 budget. Of course, that’s important. Assisting the state’s homeless population to live better lives should be a priority. But the state needs to place more emphasis on the mental health of homeless folks and assisting that way.
I can’t fathom how many homeless people have been passed from one mental institution to the next without receiving the necessary assistance. There’s not much benefit to finding housing and sending them into the workforce without the proper tools to navigate everyday life.
Instead of only lobbing money toward the issue to solve it, sit down with people in the community to listen to their concerns to provide a better direction for said cash.
One night of doing so offered a paradigm shift for me and highlighted how, as a state, we continue to neglect the importance of mental health. I believe it’s vital to tap into the resources around our communities, and not just financially.
Listen to those who experience this problem first- or second-hand so they can illustrate potential solutions. Their words go further than pouring capital towards a problem.
The woman who spoke to us at the Denver Press Club presented an issue I knew existed for years.
However, she opened my eyes to the severity of mental illness among the homeless. Hopefully others begin to understand that and push to improve mental health among our homeless.