What is the homeless population at higher risk for and why do stereotypes impact the medical care they receive?

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Statistic in video: In Seattle the population is 65.7% White, 14.1% Asian, 7.0% African American, 1% Native American or native alaskan, .9% Pacific Islander, 2.3% other races and 5.6%  two or more races. So how is it that the homeless population is 48% White, 25% African American, 2% Asian, 15% Native American, Pacific Islander 4%, and 6% multiracial. Estimated that 6-11% of youth in the U.S. identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community yet according to the Seattle times 22% of homeless in Seattle 12-25 identify as LGBTQ+. 

From: Project Family on Homelessness https://projectonfamilyhomelessness.org/2016/02/03/making-an-infographic-on-homelessness-the-designers-tale/

Background of homelessness in the United States

Each year 2-3 million people experience episodes of homelessness in the United states. On any given day in the United States the estimate # of People experiencing homelessness is 567,715 people (.02% of the U.S. population  however this is most likely a conservative number). Break down of that number: 372,500 individuals experience homelessness alone, 180,400 homeless families, 37,900 homeless youth, 88,600 experience chronic homelessness.

Life expectancy and higher risks

The life expectancy of someone in the U.S. is 78 years old but for someone experiencing homelessness it is 50. People experiencing homelessness have a higher risk of getting illnesses such as tuberculosis, hypertension, asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and mental health (almost twice the rate of mental illnesses in the housed population). This is because the homeless population often face environments such as exposure to diseases, harmful weather, improper sanitation, violence, addiction, malnutrition, lack frequent medical examinations, alcoholism, being away from love ones. The huge difference of life expectancy between the homeless population and housed population is not only due to higher risk of disease and illnesses but also because of difficulty seeking preventative care as well as appropriate treatment plans. The lack of medical access to patients experiencing homelessness leads to more hospitalizations for serious life threatening conditions that could have easily been prevented/treated early on. This is in part due to lack of insurance, transportation and high costs as well as stereotypes, misconceptions surrounding homelessness. 

Harmful stereotypes 

Harmful stereotypes of the homeless population is “that a majority of them struggle with alcoholism or drug abuse.” This incorrect stereotype can lead to the misconception that when a homeless person seeks medical help they are doing it in order to get prescribed drugs this can impact the health care they receive as well as their want to even receive medical attention. A study done in 2017 by the National Coalition for homeless found that 38% of homeless people suffer from alcoholism and 26% are dependent on other harmful chemicals. It is important to understand that these numbers are higher than that of the national average however one can not assume because one is homeless they abuse substances. Another common misconception is that homelessness is often a result of addiction. It can be but more often addiction is a result of being homeless. Homeless often have the added stress of having to find food, mental health, and being away from loved ones. This can cause many to develop psychiatric conditions as well as develop addiction. 

What can we do and what are things being done

 For starters I think that medical schools should do a better job at teaching students how to properly and affectively treat patients experiencing homelessness. I also think locally every hospital in major cities or in places with a significant number of homeless people should have specialists that specialize in helping doctors come up with treatment plans that are going to be successful for people in certain situations. I understand that there are often social workers and other people involved in the system today however it obviously needs improvement considering the huge inequalities in healthcare for the homeless that still exist today.  

Things that are being done to make sure the homeless population gets adequate medical attention as well as appropriate medical treatment plan. September 30th, 2018 California passed bill no. 1152 “an act to amend, appeal and add section 1262.5 of the health and safety code, relating to public health”. This bill calls that each hospital has a written homeless patient discharge policy so that there will be specified information before patients are discharged. This will include referrals with behavioral agencies, health care and social service agencies, health care providers and nonprofit social service providers. Hospitals will also have to have a lot of homeless discharge and where they were released to. This is a step in the right direction however this is only on a state level rather than a national level and in order for there to be substantial progress we all need to work together. 

Many people do not know much about the stereotypes and inequalities homeless population faces and its impact on there medical care, it is important that we spread awareness on this topic in order to change misconceptions and stereotypes as well as to get health care places to be more accessible and beneficial for people experiencing homelessness. 

In the chat please respond to a couple of these questions: 

  • Who do you think should be fixing the current problem with health care and the homeless population?
    • Should hospitals be in charge of enforcing new policies?
    • Should each state be in-charge of make regulations like the state of California?
    • Should it be handled on a National level? 
  • Do you think that how to affectively treat and create a long term treatment plan for patients in certain situations such as homelessness should be taught to all doctors or do you think that each hospital should have people specialized in affectively treating patients experiencing homelessness?
  • Share your city or countries experience with the homeless population and medical care or stereotypes and misconceptions that impact their medical care(as well as read over other peoples knowledge, Spread Awareness! 🙂 
  • Feel free to put in any questions in the chat or any other information you want to add


Here is a link to the work cite: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sVtvfWplUMBXtt5Ivt-RWubZZT0pftwfvgfautOQ5fQ/edit?usp=sharing If you want to learn more I encourage you to look at some of the websites they are really interesting. 


1 comment

  1. Wow! This is such an interesting project that I really enjoyed learning all about. I think the way you organized the information was helpful and easy to follow. Thank you for sharing!

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