An international trend

May 28, 2014, Vol: 21, No: 22

Across North America and Europe, reports and studies from the past 15 years have come up with similar findings: Homelessness leads to early death.

A 1999 study entitled “San Francisco Homeless Deaths” used data from the city medical examiner to examined the deaths of 157 homeless people. The average age of death of that group was 42. The study’s author cautioned that because people who died in hospice or with unverifiable housing status were not included, the numbers of deaths should be considered “a conservative estimate.”

In 2000, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), called “Mortality Among Men Using Homeless Shelters in Toronto, Ontario,” found that men who used homeless shelters in Canada’s most populous city experienced higher mortality rates than the city’s general population.

The study’s author observed what he termed a striking finding: Mortality rates for homeless men in Toronto were lower than in U.S. cities like New York City or Boston. He wrote that Canada had universal health care, and that men in Toronto’s shelter system were less likely to have experienced chronic homelessness than their American counterparts.

He wrote, “[C]hronic homelessness itself may increase the risk of death.”

A 2013 report called “Mortality Among Homeless Adults in Boston,” available through JAMA, looked into the deaths of more than 1,300 homeless people who died between 2003 and 2008. The average age of death was 51.

“Interventions to reduce mortality in this population should include behavioral health integration into primary medical care, public health initiatives to prevent and reverse drug overdose, and social policy measure to end homelessness,” the team of authors wrote.

But one of the most unflinching studies was released in 2011 by Crisis, a British national charity for single homeless people. Its 12-page study, “Homelessness: A Silent Killer,” “paints a bleak picture of the consequences of homelessness and the extremely detrimental impact it can have on people’s health and well-being.”

The average age of death for 1,731 homeless people in the study was 47, but for homeless women it was 43. Homeless people were three times as likely to die of a fall or traffic accident and twice as likely to die of an infection.

While other studies often cautioned readers against drawing bold conclusions, authors of the British study expressed few reservations about the data: “Ultimately, [the study] shows that homelessness is killing people.”

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