Homeless Families in the OC: Accessing Mental Health Services

Aside from housing assistance, the county is responsible for providing mental health services to the homeless. And the need for these services are great — one in three homeless people suffer from a serious mental illness in the United States. Many families, however, do not reach out.

By Adriana Arceo

The “homeless family” population accounts for 26 percent of the entire homeless community in Orange County. That is, there are 398 homeless households that have been identified to be living in the county, according to the Orange County Continuum of Care, an outreach and assessment care system that has assisted the homeless since 1998. The number of people in these households total to 1,269 homeless individuals. Although 95 percent of the homeless family members are either in an Emergency Shelter or a Transitional Housing program – which often offer mental health services, there are still 66 individuals that are unsheltered with little to no mental health care access. They had revealed they had spent the previous night at an unconventional residence – a place not meant for continuous human habitation (e.g. cars, abandoned buildings, train or bus station, tents in a non-designated camping space, a space on family member’s or friend’s property, etc). The homeless crisis in Orange County has not seen an increase in accommodations, such as beds, despite the recent opening of the HomeAid Orange County Family CareCenter which opened in Irvine last spring in hopes of housing 10 to 15 homeless families. HomeAid is a national, nonprofit organization that focuses on redeveloping and building homes for the homeless.

“…it also disclosed the total number of unsheltered homeless persons in the region was 2,584…”

Orange County identifies “homeless families” as a unit that is below the poverty line. A unit includes at least one adult and one child (minor). According to federal criteria, in order to qualify as a family unit below the poverty line, Orange County determines the estimated economic threshold of a family unit based on its size. For a family of two, the estimated poverty threshold is $15,901; for three people, the threshold is $19,512; for four, $25,086, and so on. While last year’s Homeless Count & Survey Report revealed that there are 66 unsheltered homeless family individuals, it also disclosed the total number of unsheltered homeless persons in the region was 2,584, highlighting the immense difficulty in finding beds in shelters around the area, and it is especially harder to find shelters in Santa Ana. Santa Ana has one of the highest homeless concentrations at a rate of 21.2 percent, which is close to double the overall rate of Orange County. Many families in Santa Ana are also barely scraping by, as their income reflects the difficulty in avoiding homelessness. The percentage of families with an income below the poverty level in Santa Ana is 18.7 percent, according to the American Community Survey.

“Some families avoid seeking mental health services because they feel they may not be able to afford the services.”

Aside from housing assistance, the county is responsible for providing mental health services to the homeless. And the need for these services are great — one in three homeless people suffer from a serious mental illness in the United States. Many families, however, do not reach out. There are many reasons for their feelings of discouragement. Some families avoid seeking mental health services because they feel they may not be able to afford the services. Another common reason is due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues. In addition, there may be language barriers, transportation issues, and even unawareness of the symptoms of mental health issues. Although families may feel discouraged to reach out, all are encouraged to contact 2-1-1 for more information on these kinds of services. Should a family member in a homeless household experience mental hardship, the non-profit organization 2-1-1 Orange County assists those unsheltered families with mental health service referrals.

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