MARION, POLK COUNTIES, Ore.–
More than one in three homeless adults in Marion and Polk counties is living with a mental health disability, according to the 2014 Homeless Count Report.
That figure is nine times higher than that of the general population, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health
“As many as 341 adults in Marion and Polk counties reported a mental health disability during the one-day homeless count last January, which was about 36 percent of adults counted,” according to The Statesman Journal
The statistics are alarming, but there is good news — many in Marion and Polk counties are serving those in need.
Kyle Dickinson, vice president of advancement at Union Gospel Mission (UGM), said he wants the public to know that UGM is not only a resource to serve the mentally ill, but also a resource to inform and help the community to serve alongside them.
“The question that we ask at UGM is, ‘What does sustainable compassion look like?’” Dickinson said. “What sustainable compassion looks likes for us [at UGM] is giving anyone who comes to us the most appropriate and life changing care that we can offer.”
UGM has one of the largest networks of shelters in the Marion and Polk counties, according to The Statesman Journal, and they work closely with many of the homeless living with a mental illness.
Aaron Eggers, vice president of ministries at UGM told The Statesman Journal that if trauma-related disorders are included, the number of mental disabilities is closer to 55 to 60 percent.
Eggers developed a program to help those with severe physical and mental disabilities get incomes and permanent housing. He believes that a large shelter is not ideal for those with severe mental disorders, due to the large crowds and loud noises, but UGM works hard to keep them safe.
“In a perfect world,” Eggers said, “Salem would have a shelter and day room for those with mental illness and space for on-site coordination between agencies so clients can be served where they’re staying.”
Although it is impossible for a system to be perfect, Dickinson said UGM “can help people understand the issue and provide helpful tips and tools to do what they can to help.”
He also said the community’s support is what keeps UGM going, and emphasized the difference the community can make through simple acts.
“I think acts of compassion can look like a lot of things,” Dickinson said. “It can look like serving a meal, praying for someone, or just listening to someone’s story.”