Objectives: Homelessness is often associated with deinstitutionalization of chronic mentally ill people, but estimates of the number of mentally ill people in the homeless population vary. The purpose of the study was to determine the extent of psychiatric problems among the users of shelters for homeless persons in Vancouver, British Columbia. In addition, the study documented the demographic and physical health characteristics of shelter residents.
Methods: Researchers surveyed 124 emergency shelter users about their self-reported physical and mental health status and assessed their mental health status using the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS).
Results: Shelter users in Vancouver were predominantly a young, male, single mobile population. About half reported a current physical health problem, 44 percent reported use of nonprescribed drugs, and 69 percent reported use of alcohol. Nineteen percent reported a current mental or emotional problem, with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder the most common diagnoses reported. BPRS scores indicated that depression, anxiety, and tension were common problems.
Conclusions: Although the number of individuals with mental illness in the population surveyed was lower than in similar populations in the United States, the presence of mentally ill people in Vancouver shelters suggests that shelters should address mental health issues as well as provide services to ensure residents' basic survival.