It's been a cruel winter nearly everywhere in the country this
year. In an effort to stay warm and healthy, I have found myself
layering clothes on and staying inside more than usual. Many
people, however, are not as fortunate; far too many people in the
United States do not have a place to call home. The
homeless are particularly vulnerable at this time of year.
Examining the Link Between Homelessness and Health
Homelessness and health care are closely linked. Poor health may
contribute to a person becoming homeless, and being homeless often
leads to health problems.
Limited access to health care can further complicate the
situation. According to the 2007 United States
Census Bureau, 45.7
million Americans (15.3 percent of the population) do not have
health insurance. Although rates of uninsured individuals
differ by income level, these rates are disproportionately high for
people who live below the poverty line or are homeless.
For low-income individuals and families, a lack of health care
is often a cause of homelessness. Those with low incomes do not
have the ability to pay for coverage on their own. A serious health
issue can drive up expenses and lead to
Those who are already homeless are much more like likely to
become ill. Yet, treatment and management of diseases is much more
complicated among those without stable and adequate housing.
Health problems among the homeless may include:
- Bronchitis and pneumonia
- Outdoor-related issues (frostbite, immersion foot, and
- Wound and skin infections
Many homeless people do not receive medical care. The most
common barriers include:
- Cost and lack of knowledge about where to get treated
- Lack of identification and access to transportation
- Nervousness about filling out forms and providing proper
- Embarrassment and self-consciousness about appearance
This results in the homeless getting most of their care in
emergency rooms, which is inefficient and drives up health care
mortality rates among homeless and marginally housed people are
substantially higher" than those of housed individuals.
So, as this never-ending winter drags on for many of us, realize
the importance of a more widespread understanding of the
correlation between health care and homelessness. Our involvement
in local and state efforts could aid in reducing the incidence of
homelessness and contribute to creating and maintaining healthier
communities. Health Care for the
Homeless (HCH) was established in Baltimore, Md., and now
serves as a nationally recognized model for care delivery to the
homeless population. To get involved, learn more about HCH's advocacy
agenda and priorities, including expansion of health care and
insurance coverage, increased availability of affordable housing,
and improved access to emergency shelters and services.
Speak up and speak out for those unable to do so for themselves.
Learn more about you can help on HCH's Ways to Help