Let's Address America's Mental Health Crisis in 2015

Not every homeless person is mentally ill, but a large percentage within the chronically homeless population face mental-behavioral health recovery and so we need quality, community-based care in tandem with affordable housing to help them.

Just 30 years ago, some policymakers believed homeless persons were unwilling or unable to change their lives. The misguided subtext in this inaccurate view was no matter how much we spent on housing and help, chronically homeless people would stay that way because they were lazy or crazy.

Supportive housing debunked such nonsense.

Supportive housing is affordable rental housing used as a platform to access critical community-based wraparound services such as medical care, mental-behavioral health treatments, and life planning.

Over the last decade, we have witnessed an almost 50 percent decline in the number of chronically homeless individuals in this country because of supportive housing.

There are now thousands of success stories from residents homeless for decades and once considered hopeless -- proving the stability of supportive housing addresses the medical and mental-behavioral challenges that too often kept many on the streets.

It all boils down to these facts: People do not want to be homeless and struggling; they want homes and access to services that meet their needs.

An unacceptable number of people became homeless when governments closed mental health institutions and failed to provide sufficient community care to fill the vacuum. Public policy faltered again when veterans suffering from war-related trauma returned home from combat only to find themselves living under makeshift tarps.

Supportive housing partners have stepped up; helping to fill some gaps when communities grapple with insufficient responses to these problems, but more resources are vital.

Today, our jails and prisons are under great strain because they have become the de facto frontline in the mental health battle. Many behind bars have never received the mental-behavioral health attention and treatments that could have prevented their incarcerations in the first place.

Supportive housing is again being adapted to serve some individuals reentering communities from criminal justice institutions, ensuring they do not swell the homeless population or become tempted through hardship to reoffend.

As more people leave state hospitals, return from combat and exit jails and prisons, it stands to reason that the need for supportive housing and services will only increase.

Myths are hard to kill. Whenever a tragedy is linked to inadequate mental-behavioral health services, we hear debates that seem trapped in the 1980s. Similar to the mantra on homelessness then, pundits say there is nothing we can do to change the paradigm. But it is time to stop debating the worth of good, affordable housing and community mental-behavioral health care. We already know they produce significant, positive results.

There are many challenges, but also there are answers.

We can and should offer cost-effective solutions like supportive housing for people vulnerable to homelessness and battling mental-behavioral illnesses.

2015 is the right year for our nation to make significant investments in mental-behavioral health services.