Gorman, Kathleen [faculty advisor, Feinstein Center for Hunger]
Health, Homelessness, Poverty
Homelessness is a serious economic, social and public health problem. Approximately 2.3 to 3.5 million people are estimated to be homeless nationwide and with the current recession, these numbers are expected to rise. Due to the lack of permanent living accommodations and limited access to healthcare, homeless people are more likely than domiciled people to suffer from a wide range of chronic health problem, ranging from diabetes to tuberculosis to mental illness. Healthcare problems can be seen as both the cause and the effect of homelessness.
The purpose of this study was to learn about the living conditions of the homeless in Providence, RI and to try and understand the obstacles they face in terms of housing, health and nutritional conditions. The methods included library research, surveys, observations, fieldwork, including site visits to various locations (St. Patrick’s meal kitchen, St. Charles, Grace Church and WARM shelter) and conducting interviews with people who work with the homeless.
The results indicate that there are many threats to the health of homeless people, including overweight and obesity (71%) and substance abuse (38.5%). Furthermore, the chronic illnesses common among the homeless are exacerbated by their inability to access healthy foods. Homeless individuals frequently eat in community meal sites where their choices are limited, and have trouble using government assistance programs (e.g., Food Stamps) since they lack cooking and storage facilities. Finally, the conditions in which the homeless live pose additional health risks to their well-being, including communicable diseases such as influenza, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and various respiratory infections.
According to the National Coalition for Homelessness, public policy recommends that homeless people with addictions and mental illness receive the necessary treatment and assistance to help them recover. Due to limited understanding of homelessness, many healthcare workers are unable to offer a full range of care necessary to address the complex needs of people experiencing homelessness. In addition, many homeless individuals are unable to succeed in their treatments due to lack of transportation and difficulty adhering to their treatment procedures. Therefore, with proper medical attention, nutrition, education, housing support and employment, homeless people can return to a fairly normal and stable life.