Homelessness and housing crises among individuals accessing services within a Canadian emergency department

Individuals who have mental health issues and are homeless or in housing crisis have been found to access emergency departments more frequently than individuals with stable housing. While emergency departments primarily focus on medical issues, homeless individuals may require psychosocial support as well. This study examined issues around housing crises and emergency department use for individuals with mental illness in Canada. Collecting baseline data about these issues is important to inform subsequent interventions. Administrative data from a hospital emergency department and psychiatric crisis service were collected, and five individuals accessing the emergency department for psychiatric reasons were interviewed. Results indicated that individuals with an identified housing crisis accessed the emergency department 930 times in 6 months. None of the interview participants identified housing as the primary reason for accessing the emergency department, but all noted that housing was a contributing stressor. Future research is needed to examine ways in which discharge to homelessness from emergency departments can be avoided and identify alternative services to address housing concerns, particularly for individuals with mental illness. Crisis service and emergency department staff, especially nurses, can play an important role in screening for housing issues and connecting individuals to outside services.

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Journal Name: 
Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing