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Hannah Coen

Communications Associate, NCBH

Health Care’s Role in Ending Homelessness

June 19, 2015 | Population Health | Treatment | Comments
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Every night 580,000 people will experience homelessness, and more than 84,000 people will live through chronic or long-term homelessness because of a mental illness, physical disability or addiction.

Traditional medical care is not enough to care for a population disconnected from health care and social networks. Reducing these numbers takes trust and collaboration between people experiencing homelessness and a network of health care professionals. James Withers, MD, founder and director of Operation Safety Net, embraces “street medicine” to bring the point of care to where this population lives. He does this through the Street Medicine Institute.

High Medical Costs

People who experience homelessness have a mortality rate three to four times higher than the general population, which cost public services $30,000 to $50,000 each year because of complex health care needs and frequent hospitalizations.

In 2010, Opening Doors — the federal strategic plan to end homelessness — set goals to prevent and end all types of homelessness; it includes access to stable, affordable housing and quality primary and behavioral health care.

Studies in Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago reveal that supportive housing provides a platform for people to access the recovery and medical services they need, which decreases health care costs associated with emergency room visits, hospital stays and Medicaid.

These studies also show that supportive housing enhances well-being and improves health.

How Do We Make This Happen?

The health care system needs to be aware of the services and housing options available to those at-risk or currently experiencing homelessness. To make this work, health care providers must engage in homeless outreach.


To learn more, listen to a recording or download the presentation slides from From Homeless to Healthy: How to Effectively Reach People Who Experience Homelessness (and Keep Them Engaged), a webinar from the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions and the SAMHSA Homeless and Housing Resource Network.

Check out some other resources, too: