Unmet Service Needs and Barriers to Care of Individuals Experiencing Absolute Homelessness in Edmonton, Canada: A Cross-Sectional Survey


Individuals experiencing absolute homelessness have complex needs but limited access to services, contributing to high rates of morbidity and mortality. The aim of this article is to describe the perceived unmet service needs of individuals experiencing absolute homelessness, identify their barriers to care, and examine factors associated with specific unmet service needs.


Using a cross-sectional survey, 150 individuals experiencing absolute homelessness were recruited from Edmonton’s inner city and adjoining areas. The majority of participants were male (71.3%) and self-identified as Indigenous (74.0%). An adapted version of the Perceived Need for Care Questionnaire was used to measure past-year unmet needs for 4 types of services: hospital care, counselling, skills training, and harm reduction. Descriptive statistics and bivariate analyses were used; odds ratio and confidence intervals were calculated for statistically significant outcomes.


Overall, 89.3% of participants perceived a need for care for one or more general health and social services during the past year regarding their substance use and/or mental health problems; participants reported the highest levels of unmet need for counselling (42.9%) and skills training (39.2%). Though 73.3% of participants reported receiving any service, only 8.0% of participants reported having their perceived needs fully met.


In this study, individuals reported a high percentage of unmet needs. By interacting and engaging with these hard-to-reach individuals, healthcare systems will be more equipped to service them and address their barriers to care. Better patient-centred care, housing and supports for this neglected and underserved population is needed.

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Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology