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Is Health Impacted by Housing?

Written by Gage Thompson of Cedar Rapids, IA


Over half a million people in America are currently experiencing homelessness according to recent data from the University of Chicago. Our fellow Americans are without so much that the majority of us take for granted, down to the basic necessities of running water, knowing where their next meal is coming from, to having a warm blanket to sleep with at night. The consistent stress of not knowing how to meet your basic needs can take a physical and mental toll on anyone. Without the financial and supportive resources to visit healthcare clinics, needed treatments can be ignored for far too long. All these factors quickly snowball to the point that our own neighbors can find themselves in dire states of physical and mental unwellness.

Seeing someone in this state can quickly become too emotionally distressing for the average person to meaningfully provide assistance in a way which honors the autonomy and dignity of those experiencing homelessness. It is very easy to lose sight of how the comforts with which we are privileged are inseparably tied to the support we have received from those around us.

The Housing First (HF) model addresses these issues in a way which acknowledges the importance of this support. HF first and foremost reinforces a person’s sense of autonomy by providing stable housing as a first step to self-sufficiency and long-term stability. Studies published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health have shown that the Housing First models lower the frequency of non-routine healthcare visits in populations which had been experiencing homelessness. The same studies also showed that those who went through HF programs were less likely to resort to substance abuse, further lessening negative health impacts. A key proponent of Housing First programs is to not require individuals experiencing homelessness to have their barriers sorted out before having a safe place to sleep. With this flexibility, anyone experiencing homelessness is able to start their journey to stability, no matter their sobriety, income, criminal background, or health concerns. The significance of this really cannot be understated.

The importance of such programs has never been more pressing. This is especially true when considering the end of Medicare’s “Continuous Coverage” healthcare access programs, set to occur on March 31 of this year. Since the program's inception, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, vast numbers of Americans were automatically enrolled in Medicare, allowing them the bare minimum access to health services. The end of this program means that over 15 million Americans will soon face procedural obstacles to re-enroll, some of which are exceedingly difficult to navigate. Those with frequently changing addresses or without a mailing address, those with language barriers, and those who are without comprehensive identification documents (which applies to many American citizens struggling with homelessness, not just undocumented immigrants), are just some of the groups who will be profoundly negatively affected by this change.

The issue of homelessness in our society is dreadfully complex, but if you’re reading this it is because you must be concerned, which is the first step towards bringing meaningful change to our community. Housing First is a useful tool in our kit for correcting this social disharmony, as an effective stepping-stone to help those experiencing homelessness gain access to critical basic needs, healthcare, and substance use supports. Contact Willis Dady to find out how you can be of help in these efforts, and thank you for your time.


Sources

Baxter, Andrew J, et al. “Effects of Housing First Approaches on Health and Well-Being of Adults Who Are Homeless or at Risk of Homelessness: Systematic Review and Meta- Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, 1 May 2019, https://jech.bmj.com/content/73/5/379.abstract.


“End to Medicaid ‘Continuous Coverage’ Requirement Threatens Healthcare Access for People with Low Incomes and People Experiencing Homelessness.” National Low Income Housing Coalition, 13 Feb. 2023, https://nlihc.org/resource/end-medicaid- continuous-coverage-requirement-threatens-healthcare-access-people-low? utm_source=NLIHC%2BAll%2BSubscribers&utm_campaign=2848404de0- memo_021323&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e090383b5e-2848404de0- 291871189&ct=t%28memo_021323%29.


Meyer, Bruce. “The Size and Census Coverage of the US Homeless Population.” BFI, 11 July 2022, https://bfi.uchicago.edu/insight/finding/the-size-and-census-coverage-of-the-us- homeless-population/.

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