Homeless shelters have become an acceptable “housing” alternative for those exiting state systems of care. However, shelters do not have the capacity to address the unique needs of people coming from mental health, public health, corrections, youth services, and social services systems. Discharges into the shelter system are costly and ineffective, and MHSA advocates for appropriate discharge planning as a strategy to end homelessness.
Discharge planning prepares a homeless person in an institution to return to the community. Discharge planning is the process, beginning upon admission to an institution, to prevent clients from falling into homelessness by linking individuals to essential housing and services.
Sadly, homeless shelters have become an acceptable “housing” alternative for those exiting state systems of care. MHSA finds this practice unacceptable: shelters are neither adequate nor appropriate placements for people coming from mental health, public health, corrections, youth services, and social services systems. Discharges into the shelter system are a costly and ineffective way to address the unique needs of mentally ill and other persons in the community and contributes to, rather than prevents, homelessness.
In the mid-1990s, MHSA instituted a monthly census of emerging subpopulations in shelters across the state. This effort documented the emergence of growing numbers of individuals falling into homelessness upon discharge from mental health facilities, substance abuse treatment facilities, state and county corrections, foster care, and managed care. Research regarding these homeless subpopulations dispelled the old myth that homeless people are anonymous street people wandering from shelter to shelter. Rather they are known – in fact, quite well known – to state funded residential treatment, corrections, and youth programs.
MHSA advocates for appropriate discharge planning as a strategy to help end homelessness. Howerver, it is critical to remember that discharge planning is only effective when the appropriate resources for those discharged actually exist. As a Commonwealth, we must break the cycle of homelessness by providing the permanent housing and supportive services necessary to stabilize individuals exiting from systems of care.