Does fixing homelessness fix mental health?
Much has been made of the efforts in Wichita to address homelessness as a part of the renewed effort toward mental health. But while all thumbs are fingers, not all fingers are thumbs.
Is there a correlation between homelessness and mental illness? Yes. But does fixing homelessness fix mental health? Absolutely not. To an extent, homelessness is a visible manifestation of untreated and unprevented mental illness. But not everyone who is housing-unstable has a mental illness. And far more importantly, only a tiny fraction of those with a mental illness are housing unstable.
For reference, the number of people living in Sedgwick county with a diagnosable mental illness is an estimated 130,000. Yet the most recent count of the homeless population in the county placed the total of housing unstable individuals at an all-time high of 690 people, barely half of 1% of those living with mental illness.
There is no question that it is vital to address the lack of housing stability in Wichita. No one should have to question where they are going to sleep tonight or if they are going to be able to eat today. No one should have to live with the lack of opportunity that is an undeniable side effect of housing instability. But conflating the two issues runs the risk of people believing that mental illness has been fixed simply because they no longer see people sleeping on park benches or living under bridges. Mental illness affects young and old, rich and poor, and the need to continue providing the care that we all need sometimes isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.