Homelessness & Health Care

This fact sheet provides information about many common problems faced by individuals experiencing homelessness in accessing and utilizing health related services.

Health problems cause homelessness. Homelessness causes health problems. Homelessness complicates efforts to treat health problems. Specific issues include the following:

Unstable housing increases risk for serious health problems and complicates treatment adherence and recovery.

Limited access to nutritious food and water compounds health problems. People experiencing homelessness generally have irregular meals with little dietary choice. Additionally, lack of enough water can cause dehydration.

Higher rates of communicable disease are seen in shelters and on the streets. Respiratory infections and sexually transmitted infections including HIV and tuberculosis, as well as skin diseases and infestations are among the communicable diseases people without homes face every day.

Serious and complex medical conditions are more common among individuals experiencing homelessness than in among housed people. They are at increased risk for acute and chronic diseases with multiple co-morbidities, and they are more likely to experience acute, life-threatening conditions due to delayed care.

Lack of health insurance/resources limits access to primary and specialty care and prescription drugs. Over half of people who are homeless nationwide are uninsured.

Lack of transportation limits access to health care.

Discontinuous/inaccessible health care continues to be a problem for many people. Fragmented health services are often ill-prepared to deal with complex problems.

Chronic stress and anxiety associated with homelessness have negative effects on health, development, and learning.

Higher rates of abuse affect people who are homeless. Over 80% of homeless women victims of severe physical/sexual assault. Homeless children are two to three times more likely than others to be abused.

Behavioral health problems are more prevalent among homeless individuals than among housed peers, including higher incidence of mental illness and substance use disorders.

Physical/cognitive impairments impact many individuals who are homeless, and are often secondary to trauma, mental illness, chronic substance use, infection, stroke, tumor, and developmental disabilities.

Barriers to disability assistance include insufficient documentation of impairments for SSI/SSDI claims and result in restricted access to housing and health care, especially for people with mental illness.

Cultural/linguistic barriers create many health disparities for people of color who are homeless.

Criminalization of homelessness can result in medications being confiscated during arrest and not returned, and criminal records can be an obstacle to employment, housing, and services.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA