Homeless people can be described as that group of people who lack adequate, fixed or regular night-time shelter. This includes a considerable number of people who live in deplorable conditions such as abandoned buildings, public spaces, parks, and bus or train stations as well as in cars. Since the last quarter of the 20th Century, homelessness has become one of the most serious problems affecting many urban centers in both developed and developing nations. In the U.S, homelessness has become so rampant that about 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the course of one year with 70% of them living in urban areas. Homeless people include single men and women, young families as well as runaway adolescents. Although lack of affordable housing and poverty has been blamed for increased homelessness especially among families, poor health greatly impacts on their disadvantaged status, and has been blamed for derailing any efforts to alleviate the plight of the homeless. Their vulnerability to various health problems makes life even harder for them because poor health makes it even harder for them to overcome homelessness (Galea & Vhahov 19-20; National Coalition for the Homeless).
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Homelessness and Poor Health
Contrary to popular belief that homelessness is a situation confined to single men and women, thousands of families also experience homelessness each year. In reality, 41% of the homeless population is made up of families and homelessness can be especially devastating for them. Virtually every aspect of their daily lives is disrupted, and their emotional and physical lives are extensively damaged. It is bad enough for families to lack shelter but even more devastating if they are suffering health-wise. This can lead to a state of helplessness so severe that the affected persons may succumb to mental depression. The rate at which homeless people succumb to health problems is so high that, illness and injury among the homeless ranges from two to six times higher than recorded rates among the housed people. Homelessness also makes delivery of essential health services to the affected population very difficult. Due to poor access to appropriate healthcare services, chronic and acute health conditions among the homeless may receive very little or no attention; leading to very serious medical complications and reducing the homeless person’s ability to overcome homelessness (McMurray-Avila 6).
Homeless people are extremely burdened by illness and disease. But the patterns of illness differ extensively between mothers, youth, and single men and women. Diseases and illnesses most common among homeless people include but are not limited to pregnancy and related problems, sexually transmitted diseases ad high rates of suicide. Female mothers however tend to enjoy better health than the single homeless women although the later are highly prone to suffering from serious mental illness. Homeless children suffer from poor health at a rate twice as high as other children. They are more prone to stomach problems, asthma, ear infections and speech problems. Mental illnesses such as withdrawal, anxiety and depression are also more common among homeless children than children from housed families. If early treatment is not readily accessible, such health conditions are likely to delay their development (National Coalition for the Homeless).
Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections are also very common causes of health problems among the homeless people. Tuberculosis outbreaks among them have been very common especially among those co-infected with HIV. A common chronic illness such as diabetes, seizures, hypertension and chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) are however scarcely diagnosed in homeless adults; and therefore treatment is rarely accorded such illnesses. Other sicknesses which also receive very little attention among homeless people include cancer, mental illness and depression. Dental problems and pregnancies are also quite common. Contraceptives are unpopular with most of the homeless women and lack of prenatal care together with the hardships of homeless life; often lead to low birth weight (Galea & Vhahov 21-22).
Homeless people also display extremely high rates of smoking, a habit that makes COPD very common among the older adults. Smoking also exposes them to respiratory diseases such bronchial asthma, pneumonia and upper tract infections. Life on the streets is also characterized by a lot of trauma and injuries resulting from physical or sexual assaults. Young women are especially prone to such assault. Street youth abuse a wide range of drugs such as cocaine, opiates, hallucinogens, sedatives, inhalants and amphetamines. These drugs destroy the youth in such a way that their ability to get rid of homelessness is greatly reduced (Galea & Vhahov 22-23).
Any attempt either by the government or other organizations to end homelessness in any individual or group of people, must seriously address the issue of healthcare provision among the homeless. Disease or ill health can derail the process of overcoming homelessness because those affected may be spending the little resources they have on provision of healthcare; or they maybe too ill to participate in any efforts geared towards removing them from their homeless condition. A healthy person has every opportunity to make money and get out of poverty and homelessness but a sick person must take care of his sickness first before engaging in any project that is meant to help alleviate the problem of homelessness (McMurray-Avila 7).
Galea, Sandro and Vhahov David. Handbook of Urban Health: Populations, Methods, and Practice. Warren, MI: Springer, 2005. 19-20, 21-22, 25.
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McMurray-Avila, Marsha. “Healthcare for the Homeless Council, Inc.” 2001. Web.
National Coalition for the Homeless. “Homeless Families with Children.” 2009. Web.