The issues of mental illness and homelessness are major public concerns in the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are homeless, with a significant percentage of them either mentally ill or drug addicts. Homelessness is worsened by the ever-reducing public funding of programs aimed at tackling both homelessness and mental illness in America. The pervasive nature of homelessness in the U.S. and the fact that a majority of the homeless are either mentally ill or drug addicts has made the issue a security problem. Police officers in their encounters with special-needs individuals, such as the homeless and mentally ill, need to implement direct outreach programs and partner with social service providers to deal with the homelessness quagmire compassionately and humanely.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. lack shelter, and therefore, stay in the streets posing a huge housing and security challenges. In a survey conducted by the Harvard Medical School, more than 600,000 individuals are homeless on any given night (Dempsey et al. 76). Another two million individuals at some time in any given year across the U.S. (Dempsey et al. 76). In the U.S., a quarter to a third of the homeless suffers from serious health issues ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder with another 30 percent of the homeless population hooked on drugs (Dempsey et al. 78). Policing the homeless is quite challenging as most homeless individuals are either hooked on drugs or mentally ill. The high prevalence of drug use and mental illness among the homeless makes them quite dangerous not only to members of the public but also to the police. This, therefore, complicates policing of the mentally ill and homeless population in the U.S.
Police officers can help address the issues of homelessness and mental illness in the U.S. by engaging in direct outreach programs and partnering with social service providers. The police are ill-equipped to handle the issue of homelessness (Dempsey et al. 123). Therefore, they need to step up and embrace a compassionate and humane approach when dealing with special needs individuals, such as the mentally ill and homeless. Engaging in direct outreach programs is essential in identifying, rehabilitating, and removing the homeless from the streets. Since the police do not have the requisite training or facilities for rehabilitation, there exists a need to partner with social services providers. Most social service providers in the U.S. play a fundamental role in the humane rehabilitation and relocation of the homeless and mentally ill from the streets.
Currently, in the U.S., there exist several social service providers that have both formal and informal partnerships with the police aimed at humanely relocating the homeless from the streets. For example, in Indo, California, the police department, through its Community Outreach Resource Program (CORP), has developed an inclusive and elaborate response to the city’s homelessness crisis. CORP has partnered with the police, both national and regional social services providers, and several faith-based organizations to address homelessness in Indo (Dempsey et al. 138). In the CORP framework, the Indo Police Department engages in direct outreach initiatives aimed at escorting or directing the homeless to specifically erected shelters for them. Social services providers, such as the California Medicaid program (Medical) and CalWORKs, provide rehabilitation services to the homeless and mentally ill in conjunction with faith-based organizations partnering with CORP. The social services providers and faith-based organizations provide logistics, such as food, shelter, and medication, for the homeless incorporated under CORP.
Dempsey, John S., et al. An Introduction to Policing, 9th ed., Cengage Publishers, 2019.