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Addressing Homelessness and Health: Improving Access to Care

Improving Access to Care for the Homeless

By andrewdeen14Published 4 months ago 3 min read
Addressing Homelessness and Health: Improving Access to Care
Photo by Ev on Unsplash

People experiencing homelessness generally live under constant stress. Not only do they have to worry about sheltering themselves from the elements, whether that means pitching a tent, parking their car, going to a shelter, or bundling up under a bridge, but they also have to figure out how to get access to other necessary services, such as healthcare.

Although anyone can walk into an emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay, there are many access barriers preventing homeless individuals from getting the care they need. Studies have shown that homeless people are more likely to experience poor health and premature death, due to a lack of access to healthcare, combined with stress and other factors caused by living without stable housing.

This is a crisis that affects hundreds of thousands of people each year. We need to ensure that people who are in the most vulnerable situations have the resources they need to stay as healthy as possible.

Homelessness Can Affect Anyone

Most people have a certain image in their mind of someone who is homeless. We often think of homeless people as middle-aged men or people with several mental health disorders. However, the homelessness problem in the United States is much more complicated than this, and anyone can experience homelessness.

In fact, 30% of the homeless population in the United States is made up of families with children. Around 20% of people experiencing homelessness are “chronically” homeless, and the majority of them do not have access to shelter at all. They live on the streets in all kinds of weather.

This means that people of all ages are closed off from access to the care they need. This health gap between the housed and unhoused means that people who are experiencing homelessness often have to deal with more health problems than people with housing, in addition to the other challenges they face.

The Health and Care Gap Between the Housed and Unhoused

The health gap affecting the homeless population in the United States can have devastating consequences for people of all ages. People who cannot secure stable housing are frequently uninsured or have to rely on low-income health programs that are often overwhelmed by the number of people in need.

Children whose families are experiencing homelessness might not get the checkups and vaccinations they need. Poor nutrition can lead to illness, growth issues, and obesity. Older adults might develop life-threatening conditions and have few options for treatment.

Some people go without essential medications when they are homeless, which can be a life-threatening situation for those with chronic conditions. People with mental health disorders who go without their medication while they are homeless are often unable to manage their condition and have trouble making the changes necessary to obtain stable housing.

Additionally, the stress of homelessness, a lack of access to nutritious food, exposure to the elements, and other environmental factors can all have an impact on a person’s health. Over time, these factors can lead to chronic health problems.

Two Major Issues: Access and Trust

A lack of access to health care is a major concern for the homeless population. Most people who are experiencing homelessness can’t prioritize preventative care, since they are primarily focused on survival. Some homeless individuals also struggle with substance abuse and don’t want to get in trouble with law enforcement if they visit a doctor.

Aside from that, a lack of health insurance, transportation, or access to a primary care provider can lead to homeless individuals only seeking healthcare when their health problems become extremely severe. This often leads to poorer outcomes, since it is harder to treat problems once they’ve had a chance to establish and worsen.

There is also a general lack of trust between homeless communities and the medical community. This is especially true for homeless families with children, who live under the constant threat of child protective services.

To Tackle Homelessness & Health, We Need to Tackle Poverty

Unfortunately, solving the homelessness health problem won’t be easy. There’s no simple solution, only a complex combination of solutions to address poverty. Almost no one chooses to be homeless; they are generally homeless due to financial insecurity and/or severe mental health problems.

While there are healthcare organizations and nonprofits trying to improve access to healthcare for those experiencing homelessness, we also need to think about long-term strategies that help reduce homelessness in the United States. By addressing the factors that cause homelessness AND expanding access to healthcare for the unhoused, we can create a more humane and equitable society that cares for the most vulnerable of us.


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