Since 1990, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness has more than doubled, and the faces may surprise you. Of those experiencing homelessness or housing instability, 28% are female, and as of 2013, the average age was eight. Since the types of people experiencing homelessness are changing, we have needed to adapt our support systems, but there are still too few programs designed for women and families. From July 2015 to June 2016, a reported 5,609 families received either emergency shelter or financial support to stay in their residencies — out of the nearly 9,000 who applied for help.
During their time of crisis, it is our mission to help these women and families address, treat and prevent their medical issues. Those experiencing homelessness have measurably more health concerns, and we use the understatement “homelessness is bad for your health” often. The homeless usually face difficult financial and psychological barriers. Many of these women cannot afford transportation or the child-caring services they need to see a doctor. In addition, homelessness impacts the very ability to focus and organize. Isolation, shame, exhaustion and cognitive and mental impairment bar seeking and receiving help.
These are women and families who need not only doctors and nurses, but financial assistance, resource knowledge and — most of all — caring support to maintain good health.
84% more women experiencing homelessness develop chronic conditions like diabetes, chronic bronchitis, asthma, and hypertension than those who are not homeless, and in Boston an astounding 94% have multiple complex issues. Some patients have as many as 30 medical problems. 90% of homeless women report emotional or physical trauma before or after they become homeless. All Health Care Without Walls patients report physical assaults since becoming homeless.
Children experiencing homelessness are sick 4 times more often than other children. They get 4 times as many respiratory infections, 2 times as many ear infections, and 5 times more gastrointestinal problems. They experience greater rates of obesity, undernourishment, anxiety, and depression, and they are 4 times as likely to have developmental delays. In school, they struggle with hunger, and due to frequent absences and changing schools, they are twice as likely to repeat a grade