Housing is the only way to improve health

You've probably seen the California Policy Lab article we've shared on the serious health problems and trauma experienced by unsheltered people. The key finding: 

The analysis finds that people who are unsheltered are far more likely to report having chronic health conditions, mental health issues, and experiences with trauma and substance abuse as compared to homeless people who are living in shelters. 

A takeaway might seem obvious, but the researchers emphasize that "the data does not support a finding that shelter is the cause of improved health." Housing people is the only way that they will ever be able to fully resolve health issues. 

Consider this. Among our more than 320 shelter clients, at least 95 have a disability and at least 75 have a chronic illness. Our shelters are typically one to three miles away from our Daytime Support Centers. Many clients walk between them, as well their workplaces, healthcare providers, human service agencies, businesses, and public places. Even before taking those trips into account, pedestrian clients walk two to six miles every day. 

Over time, this can cause discomfort and pain, exacerbate existing conditions, and lead to new problems. Many clients have also experienced prior trauma on the streets, including assault, robbery, and rape, which can cause mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Both physical pain and the effects of trauma can lead to self-medication or relapses. 

Emergency overnight shelter helps people begin to recover from their experiences on the streets, but it cannot improve health on its own. Our shelter staff and volunteers work closely with our Clinical Director, Community Health Worker, and local healthcare providers to ensure that clients can access and use healthcare services. Ultimately, regularly making appointments, following treatment plans, and filling prescriptions takes a fixed residence, so we get people back into housing as quickly as we can. 

To support getting people in our shelters back home and healthy, click here. 

Communications & Advocacy Specialist
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