Health & Homelessness
WRITTEN BY: Jeshiqua Walker-White | Founder of Project Love Strong
Did you know that “men and women struggling with homelessness are particularly vulnerable to illnesses? At times their health is compromised with preexisting medical conditions, addiction, life stressors, filth, and food scarcity.” The longer a person is homeless, the more likely he or she is to experience poor health and be placed at higher risk for premature death.” Homelessness is a crisis that impacts our communities, and it seems like it is very little, we can do to combat it. We think of an individual with poor appearance, poor hygiene, begging for money, without a home or a job, as being homeless. These are not the only factors of homelessness. A useful way of differentiating the population is to consider those who are Chronically Homeless (individuals who are homeless for a year or more), Episodically Homeless (those who move in and out of homelessness), and Transitionally Homeless (short-term, usually less than a month). Research has shown that “On a single night in January 2019, there were 568,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. 63% were sheltered individuals, and 37% were unsheltered individuals.” Most people wonder how a person becomes homeless, but not many ask where the homeless first seek silent help. Dealing with the idea of being without a home is not something to come to terms with quickly. Let us take a more in-depth look at the problem; A survey was conducted on homeless adults in the US to see where individuals go when they first become homeless. From a list of 20 possible ‘first‐stop’ sites, 105 (45.7%) reported going to a soup kitchen, 71 (30.9%) went to a welfare office, 64 (27.8%) sought admission to a detoxification center, 60 (26.1%) met with a homeless outreach team, 57 (24.8%) went to a family member, and 54 (23.5%) went to an emergency room. Individuals with a chronic medical or mental health condition were significantly more likely to access a healthcare site. Individuals who are alcohol abuse/dependence were less likely to seek help from family or friends due to shame. It seems as though individuals usually seek help for an immediate need before they seek help for their housing situation, resulting in homelessness. Once an individual is homeless, it is hard to locate them or ensure optimum physical and mental health. Resources for the homeless population vary from state to state. There is no cookie-cutter approach to addressing the homeless crisis. However, straightforward approaches to meeting the unhoused where they are and providing onsite services can help reduce the blunt impacts of the health and homeless struggle. As a homeless outreach organization founder, our mission is to provide essentials to the unhoused community. ‘Essentials’ for us are essential hygiene items, along with essential services (haircuts, showers, vaccinations, and health screening). An organization like Project Love Strong (PLS) that serves the unhoused are major blessings to the homeless community. These street organizations provide unique services. The level of appreciation that PLS receives from this population is heart-melting. We can all do more collectively in our states to change our street outreach approaches to enhance restorative services for the unhoused to keep them healthy. How amazing would it be to have a system to screen for potential homelessness at sites such as hospitals, soup kitchens, social services agencies, cafes, and detox facilities? Decreasing chronic homelessness in our communities and connecting individuals to rehabilitation services early can reduce health vulnerability rates.
ABOUT THE NAACP HEALTH COMMITTEE:
The NAACP is committed to eliminating the racial and ethnic inequities that exist within our health care system that undermine communities of color their life opportunities and their ability to contribute fully to the common good. The committee’s health blogs aim to promote health.
O'Toole TP, Conde-Martel A, Gibbon JL, Hanusa BH, Freyder PJ, Fine MJ. Where do people go when they first become homeless? A survey of homeless adults in the USA. Health Soc Care Community. 2007 Sep;15(5):446-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2524.2007.00703.x. PMID: 17685990.