Homeless Shelters Are Not a Solution for Addiction and Mental Health


Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States are homeless and live in public housing programs or shelters. Unfortunately, homelessness can often contribute to mental health issues and addiction.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 38% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol and 26% abuse drugs.1

Before placing a homeless patient in a shelter or housing program, it’s essential to address these conditions, as shelters typically don’t have the facilities to offer the right treatment or help.

The Problems with Homeless Shelters Used to “Treat” Patients with Mental Disorders and Addiction

There are many reasons why a shelter or housing program is not an appropriate placement for a homeless person struggling with addiction or mental illness.

Our Homeless Shelters Are Overrun

Most facilities to assist homeless people are already full to the brim. All over the United States, people experiencing homelessness have difficulty gaining access to shelters because, in many cases, there just aren’t any more shelter beds available.

By placing someone in need of mental health or addiction treatment in a homeless shelter, you are putting more strain on an already overrun system and diverting resources away from shelter residents who could significantly benefit from more space, more time with counselors, and more attentive care.

They Need Specific Treatment for Their Condition(s)

Most patients with mental illnesses or addiction disorders require expert, dedicated care from a medical professional or therapist specializing in helping people with their condition.

This level of care is impossible to find in a regular homeless shelter, and placing a patient in need of medical or psychological assistance into the public housing system could cause even further damage to their health.

There Is No Real Clinical Oversight in Homeless Shelters

People with mental illness or addiction are exposed to serious risks, including overdosing, self-harm, and severe withdrawal symptoms.

Few, if any, homeless shelters have the right staff to manage and supervise people dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues. These individuals may feel neglected or abandoned and suffer serious health setbacks when placed in a system with minimal oversight.

It Is a Poor Use of Resources

In a system that’s already strained, assigning resources to the people who can most benefit from them is essential. Unfortunately, placing people with mental illnesses or addiction in a homeless shelter can divert vital resources away from the people who could benefit from them and toward individuals who cannot experience the full benefits of these resources yet.

It Sends the Patient Back into the Cycle of Addiction or Mental Health Treatment Inconsistency

Living on the streets is often a contributing factor to mental illness and addiction. Although the vast majority of homeless people don’t necessarily use drugs, many do. Placing these individuals in a state-run permanent housing or public housing system could put them back in the situation that resulted in their mental health issues or substance abuse in the first place.

Additionally, many homeless shelters require residents to be drug tested before they can be given a bed. If they test positive for drugs, they are either sent to a public detox facility or sobering station or back out onto the street where they’ll be exposed to the same factors that may have encouraged their substance abuse in the first place.

People with untreated or undiagnosed mental illnesses are also likely to use drugs to self medicate. Unfortunately, many mental health facilities won’t treat patients who are using illicit drugs, while most homeless shelters don’t treat mental illness.

Finding the right care for your homeless patient before entering them into the shelter system is vital to avoid creating an endless cycle of addiction and transferring between the streets, jails, and emergency rooms.

Are There Other Options?

Yes! There are many addiction and mental health treatment centers that offer high-quality facilities that can help your patients avoid shelters and the pitfalls they may face there. A specialized treatment facility focused on assisting individuals with a range of conditions will be the best option for your patients should they struggle with mental illness or substance abuse. One of the best ways to identify the right facility is by using RecoverWell.

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How Do I Streamline Mental Health and Addiction Treatment for Homeless Patients?

RecoverWell matches potential patients and treatment centers based on budget, insurance, personal preferences, and the treatment required by their condition. By streamlining the admissions process and reducing the time it takes to find the right facility, RecoverWell can help your patients get quick and easy access to the right medical care.

By using RecoverWell, patient advocates and health care professionals can help their patients who are homeless choose to get evidence-based treatment for their conditions in a facility that matches their needs. Once they complete their treatment, they can then be placed in supported housing or a sober living environment as suggested by the center where they were treated.

Join RecoverWell for free and start meaningfully addressing your patients’ addiction and mental health problems when they are experiencing homelessness.


  1. https://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/addiction.html

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