Homeless people with mental illness fare better in communities with strong civic cooperation and activism, a new study says.
So-called “social capital,” or civic connections in a community, help homeless people because it is tied to greater trust and cooperation, says Robert Rosenheck, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Medicine and the lead investigator in the study.
“The more community residents vote, participate in volunteer activities and attend meetings in their communities, the more they experience trusting relationships that allow people from different agencies to work together,” he says.
Trust can give a big boost to agencies focused on mental health and housing that typically have few ties and don’t work together, he says.
Previous studies found that agencies with separate funding aren’t motivated to work together, even if they deliver similar services to the same group of people, he says.
In light of recent research by Harvard scholar Robert Putnam finding an erosion of civic ties, Rosenheck says, his own study “raises the alarms that the effective delivery of human services may be in decline as well.”
The study, published in the August issue of Health Services Research, tracked the progress of 2,500 mentally ill homeless people from 18 U.S. towns and cities for one year, analyzing community voting records, participation in volunteer work or community projects, and the cohesiveness of agencies helping the homeless in those communities
Forty percent of the participants were living in stable housing at the end of the study, with the formerly homeless more likely to live in communities with high levels of social capital.