People with severe mental illness may experience limited housing, employment and income options, the study finds. ((CBC))

Homeless people in Canada have more mental health problems than the rest of the population, leading to higher hospitalization rates, says a new report released Thursday.

Mental disorders accounted for 52 per cent of acute care hospitalizations among the homeless in 2005-2006, said the report, released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

The report, calledImproving the Health of Canadians: Mental Health and Homelessness, also found that 35 per cent of visits by homeless people to selected emergency departments, most of them in Ontario, were related to mental and behavioural disorders, a proportion that is much higher than it is for other patients.

The homeless are "more likely to suffer from a mental illness or compromised mental health than the general population," said Dr. Jennifer Zelmer, vice-president of research and analysis at CIHI, in a release.

The report also says that 10,000 people in Canada are homeless on any given night.

Among patients recorded as homeless, the most common reasons for hospital visitswere substance abuse, which accounted for 54 per cent of visits (62 per cent for homeless men and 30 per cent for homeless women), followed by other psychotic disorders (20 per cent of visits) such as schizophrenia (28 per cent for homeless women and 18 per cent for homeless men).

'Complex relationship' between homelessness, housing

"This report explores the complex relationship between mental health and homelessness," says Dr. Elizabeth Votta, program lead at the Canadian Population Health Initiative, part of CIHI. "People with severe mental illness may experience limited housing, employment and income options."

"On the other hand, people who are homeless tend to report higher stress, lower self-worth, less social support and different coping strategies, factors that are associated with depressive symptoms, substance abuse, suicidal behaviours and poor self-rated health."

The report cites two examples of mental health promotion programs that are working at street level. One project in Ottawa, the Getcha-nishing Mobile Health Outreach Project, attempts to stabilize the physical and mental health of aboriginal homeless people.

Providing addictioncounseling services, it says it has reduced the rate of relapse by 40 per cent among 221 clients undergoing addiction services andhelped 30 clients to find permanent housing.

Vancouver's Triage Centre also provides many services to homeless people with mental illness. It offers emergency shelter, low-rent housing, addiction counseling referrerals and housing outreach services. The centre reports a 63 per cent decrease in admissions to emergency shelters.