People experiencing homelessness face many challenges including a naturally precarious health status and limited means to manage their illnesses through diet, rest, and medications. All these factors have suggested that individuals in this situation require greater amounts of care when they are able to access it, but it has been difficult to put into numbers accurately and comprehensively.
A recent study, however, by researchers at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital has done just that. It shows that in Toronto, the rate of health care usage among persons facing homelessness is significantly greater compared to others living in low-income neighbourhoods. In particular, homeless persons were 8.5 times more likely to use emergency medical care, 4 times more likely to be treated in a hospital surgically or medically, and 9 times more likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric illness. These numbers are an unfortunate counterpart to previous work that has highlighted the increased amount of acute and chronic disease that this population faces compared to the rest of the public.
All this care also adds up to a significant increase in health care costs. The authors calculate that the costs of care for individuals suffering from homelessness were more than 3.5 times greater than that for people living in low-income neighbourhoods ($US 5725/person/year vs. $US 1500/person/year). At a time when health care budgets continue to grow and keeping government budgets down is prized, it makes sense to examine policy alternatives addressing housing security and the roots of these health problems. Both for the health, security, and well-being of those suffering, but for the public good as well.
For more information see CRICH's website or the article published in the American Journal of Public Health:
The Article: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301369