Mental health issues exacerbate homelessness in Huntsville, advocates say
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The city of Huntsville is growing and with that comes the growth of the homeless population. But officials say the number of people living on the streets has nearly doubled in the past year.
The struggle to maintain employment and reduced access to mental health services for people with pre-existing conditions have compounded the problem.
Getting people off the streets is the big first step, but helping them recover is the other important part. People living on the streets in the city of Huntsville face many challenges and mental health is one of the most important, RJ White of WellStone of Huntsville told News 19.
“There is a negative connotation with being mentally ill. Our customers have to deal with that negative connotation and we as staff or suppliers have to deal with that negative connotation,” White said.
White added that living on the streets instead of facing the pressures of maintaining a lifestyle has increased the homeless population during the pandemic.
“We can only do whatever you allow us to help you and so our goal is to try to bridge that gap and overcome those past experiences and break down those barriers in order to help as many people as possible,” he said.
But that was easier said than done. Psychotherapist Dominique Dillard of Speak Life Counseling has worked with the homeless population in Huntsville and says many of them have been reluctant to seek employment because they understand the pressure and stress that comes with it. Unable to cope, they would rather be on the streets than seek the help they need.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a deliberate choice, but sometimes it can seem like the least combative and easiest way to live life for some people. They go off the grid, stand alone while there are a lot of people who don’t understand why,” Dillard said.
Dillard says the homeless population has increased because, although services are there, most have chosen not to seek help
“I’ve personally met people who I’ve introduced resources to and said no thanks, that’s what I’d rather do or feel comfortable here. They don’t have responsibilities like job stress or day to day work of paying bills and all the other stuff to deal with.
In February, Huntsville City Council Speaker John Meredith hosted a public forum with homeless advocates from the community to talk about the fight against the city’s growing homeless population.
According to the North Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 460 people are homeless on any given night in Huntsville and northern Alabama.
Suggest a fix