…sometimes – Something most of us want to know: Are the homeless people we see on our streets and in our parks violent? Most of them are mentally ill and many of them are also addicted to either alcohol or drugs.

Violence appears to be more common among those with mental illness ONLY when they ALSO report substance abuse or dependence. Researchers Eric B. Elbogen and Sally C. Johnson say, “The highest risk…[is for] subjects with a history of violence, who showed nearly 10 times higher risk of violence compared with subjects with severe mental illness only.”

Other factors that predict future violence include a history of juvenile detention, physical abuse or having witnessed parental fighting; a recent divorce, unemployment or victimization; or being younger, male or lower-income.

What does all this mean? It means that you really can’t tell whether a homeless person is violent or not, since you have no way of knowing their personal history. Thus it is best to err on the side of caution, whether you give them a handout or not.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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