An estimated 326,000 to 580,000 individuals experience sheltered homelessness in the United States each night, putting them at risk for depression, anxiety, serious mental illness, substance use, and physical health problems. Nonetheless, little is known about their treatment needs, particularly of community-dwelling unhoused individuals living outside the country’s major urban centers.
In a study just published in Community Mental Health Journal, Andrew Subica, an associate professor of social medicine, population, and public health in the School of Medicine, and colleagues are the first to detail the scope of substance use, mental health, and health outcomes of unhoused individuals in Hawai‘i County.
In 162 community surveys (e.g., at encampments, beaches, parks), the researchers found extreme levels of illicit drug use with 86% of Hawai’i County’s unhoused reporting lifetime meth use and 60% and 33% reporting illicit prescription pill use and heroin use, respectively. Specifically, they found 12% screened positive for opioid addiction — six times greater than the 2% U.S. population rate — and 74% had methamphetamine addiction. More than half of participants suffered from mental illness with 57% and 56% of participants screening positive for clinical depression and anxiety disorder, respectively, and 86% reported fair/poor health.
In addition to severe problems with drug use, mental illness, and poor health, the team found severe racial disparities in Hawai‘i’s unhoused with 77% reporting Native Hawaiian heritage despite Native Hawaiian constituting just 13% of the Big Island’s population, indicating Indigenous Native Hawaiians may make up most of the unhoused persons in Hawai‘i County.
Read more at InsideUCR.edu.