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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Homeless Shelter Users in the Postdeinstitutionalizaiton Era
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Objective: To describe the psychiatric symptomatology and mental health service needs of homeless shelter users in Calgary, Alberta. Data were collected as part of a broad-based community action initiative designed to reduce the problem of homelessness.

Method: A semistructured interview was conducted with a representative sample of 250 emergency shelter users. Mental health problems were measured through self-reports of 9 psychiatric symptoms known to be related to illnesses prevalent among homeless populations (depression, anxiety, and psychoses). The CAGE alcohol screen was also used.

Results: Three-quarters of the sample expressed some symptomatology. About one-third were estimated to have a significant mental health problem. The lifetime prevalence of alcohol abuse was 33.6%. Higher levels of psychiatric symptomatology appeared to relate to a wide range of hardships, personal and public health risks, addictive behaviours, victimization, economic and interpersonal life events, dissatisfaction, and stress. Also, those with significant symptomatology frequently needed mental health care services but often did not know where to access them.

Conclusions: The prevalence of mental health and substance abuse problems within homeless populations is significant and associated with considerable hardship as well as personal and public health risks. (Authors)