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Ventura County's homeless and mentally ill

Ventura County's homeless and mentally ill

Picture of Claudia Boyd-Barrett
Homelss man
Mental illness is prevalent among the homeless; Photo courtesy of Flickr: Chris

Beaches, sunshine, natural beauty, high-priced homes. In so many ways, Ventura County embodies the affluent, laid-back lifestyle of California’s coastal regions.

Ventura County is the fifth wealthiest county in the state. Median household income stands at $76,500, well above the state and national average. Median home prices are close to $500,000. 

Yet despite its outward prosperity and tourism appeal, the county also wrestles with chronic poverty and homelessness. More than one in 10 people live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census figures. And on any given night, at least 1,500 people have no permanent place to sleep.

The county’s homelessness problem is a stubborn one. Although numbers have dropped since the height of the Great Recession, almost half of homeless adults in the county have lived on the streets for years and suffer from debilitating conditions such as drug addiction and mental illness. In statistical counts, these adults are labeled “chronically homeless.” Nationally, just 18 percent of homeless adults fall into this category.

Why are so many of Ventura County’s homeless adults languishing on the streets for extended periods? Mental health problems are likely a big factor. The county’s 2014 homeless count identified almost a third of the county’s homeless as having a mental health problem. Substance abuse, considered a mental illness by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is prevalent among 30 percent of the county’s homeless.

As a 2015 California Health Journalism fellow, I plan to explore why mental illness is so prevalent among the homeless in Ventura County, the efforts underway by local agencies to address the problem, and whether there are gaps in services for theses individuals. I’ll seek to understand the links between homelessness and mental health, the challenges local governments and non-profit groups face in trying to help the chronically homeless, and developments that could pave the way for change.

Comments

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In your article I believe you approximated 1500 indivividuals sleeping on the streets. Is this in the county? I'm doing a power-point presentation Oct 24 to increase awareness regarding the growing honeless population in our county. Up to date statistics would be welcomed. You might like to write about the event for publication in the Star or Reporter. This fundraiser benefits the 10 year anniversary of RiverHaven, a homeless encampment providing transitional housing for residents to get their lives back. Our case manager is Carie Bristow and needs the most current statistics available to use for the presentation. Her number is 805.205.0231.

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