Homelessness is a Public Health Crisis
By Kelsey Conner, Public Health Information Specialist for Springfield-Greene County Health
Throughout the years, homelessness has been seen as both an economic and social crisis. However, when you look at chronic homelessness through only a social or economic lens, you miss out on the nuances of what can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness in the United States — poor mental and physical health.
But first what is homelessness?
Homelessness can be defined in several ways, but commonly, people are experiencing homelessness if they stay in a shelter, live in transitional housing, staying in a motel, or sleep in a place not meant for human habitation such as a car or outdoors. EdX (2023) provides a helpful infographic to showcase common terms around homelessness and housing instability:
Housing instability occurs on a spectrum and can present in many ways. Three of the most commonly identified are:
· Transitional Homelessness — describes a period of homelessness that lasts for weeks or months, but no longer than one year.
· Episodic Homelessness — means entering and leaving homelessness repeatedly, often due to unstable housing situations.
· Chronic Homelessness — refers to experiencing homelessness for a period of at least one year.
Regardless of how or when one experiences periods of homelessness, the impact is significant.
The Impact of Homelessness on Mental and Physical Health
This connection between homelessness and health outcomes is cyclical. Those with chronic health conditions are more likely to experience homelessness while experiencing homelessness or housing instability can have severely negative impacts on one’s physical and mental health.
According to the Recall Report (2021) approximately 85 percent of homeless people suffer from some type of chronic health condition (i.e., heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure). Nearly 25 percent of homeless individuals in the United States experience severe mental illness, with even more experiencing milder forms of mental illness (Recall Report, 2021).
Additionally, people experiencing homelessness are:
· Three to four times more likely to die prematurely.
· Two times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
· Three times more likely to die of heart disease if they are between 25 and 44 years old.
· More likely to struggle with alcohol and substance use (edX, 2023).
These health outcomes can stem from a variety of factors all leading back to the cyclical nature of housing instability and the barriers that arise from it.
Homelessness by the Numbers
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) highlighted the following figures regarding homelessness in the United States:
· In 2021, there were approximately 326,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night.
· There was a 20 percent increase in the number of Americans experiencing chronic homelessness between 2020 and 2021.
· On a single night in 2021, 15,763 people under the age of 25 experienced sheltered homelessness on their own as “unaccompanied youth.”
In Springfield-Greene County alone, according to The Connecting Grounds’ Street Census (2023) there are 2,654 individuals experiencing homelessness. 900 individuals are living on the streets or in camps, 184 are living in a vehicle, 857 are living in motels, 215 are staying with friends and family, and 476 are currently living in a shelter or participating in a program (Connecting Grounds, 2023).
Managing chronic physical and mental health conditions can be difficult even when the individual has access to stable, adequate housing. This feat, however, is made nearly impossible when the individual is experiencing homelessness. To ease the burden of chronic physical and mental diseases amongst this population it is imperative that public health institutions, community partners, and community members come together to build trust within the unsheltered populations seeking assistance in Springfield-Greene County.
If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless please reach out to one of our Community Health Advocates who can assist you in finding the appropriate resources in our community. To contact us feel free to call (417) 874–1211, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kelsey Conner began working at Springfield-Greene County Health in 2021 and is now the team lead for COVID-19 outreach. She received her Bachelor of Science in Socio-Political Communication and her Master of Arts in Communication with an emphasis in Political Communication, from Missouri State University. Kelsey has worked in an outreach capacity for organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, Planned Parenthood, and Isabel’s House since she completed her undergraduate program in 2015.