Mental Health: Polk Vision report shows homeless are most vulnerable population – The Ledger

LAKELAND — In the last year, a grand jury described Florida’s mental illness treatment system as “a sad state” and one that has “urgent problems.”
In Polk County, mental health treatment stakeholders finished a year-long study recently that shows one in seven of your friends, neighbors and co-workers indicate that they live with depression or are otherwise at risk for behavioral health challenges.
Nationally, nearly half (45%) of people experiencing homelessness suffer from a mental health challenge; approximately 35% exhibit symptoms of a serious mental illness — schizophrenia, bipolar and/or major depression — compared to only 6% among the general population.
“Given the size of the homeless population in Polk County, this is a significant subpopulation needing focused support,” the report states. “Patients’ families aren’t trained and don’t know how to take care of their loved ones, so the patient gets kicked out of the house and they end up homeless.” 
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Mental health in Florida:System ‘a sad state’ with devastating consequences, report says
• 563 people are homeless in Polk County;
• 80 of them are chronically without shelter;  
• And 35% — nearly 200 — of them exhibit symptoms of a serious nature mental illness, like schizophrenia, bipolar or major depression
• 90% of people surveyed said there needs to be more help for the homeless in Polk.
“Getting people a home, into therapy is next to impossible,” the Polk Vision report states. “It’s hard to track someone who is homeless. Harder for homeless to have paperwork, harder to find documents. (makes it difficult for intake)”
People surveyed said there needs to be more shelters or places for the homeless to get off the street, even during the day. And there needs to be more recovery houses for those with mental health and substance abuse, with people who can help them get medications and teach them how to become more independent.
One subject that came up from service providers was the sexual abuse of the homeless.
“Many homeless have a history of sexual abuse or assault, and substance use disorder,” the report states. “Such a high percentage of the men who came into the office were sexually abused by fathers, uncles, or while in jail. Healthcare needs to deal with the trauma and urgency of the situation, and not put them in a place where people don’t understand homelessness – it’s not one size fits all.”
Polk County’s Peace River Center offers a 24-Hour Emotional Support and Crisis Line: 863-519-3744 or toll-free at 800-627-5906.
Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.