What is the relationship between health, housing, and homelessness?

Poor health (illness, injury and/or disability) can cause homelessness when people have insufficient income to afford housing. This may be the result of being unable to work or becoming bankrupted by medical bills.

Living on the street or in homeless shelters exacerbates existing health problems and causes new ones. Chronic diseases, such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, mental health problems and other ongoing conditions, are difficult to manage under stressful circumstances and may worsen. Acute problems such as infections, injuries, and pneumonia are difficult to heal when there is no place to rest and recuperate.

Living on the street or in shelters also brings the risk of communicable disease (such as STDs or TB) and violence (physical, sexual, and mental) because of crowded living conditions and the lack of privacy or security. Medications to manage health conditions are often stolen, lost, or compromised due to rain, heat, or other factors.

When people have stable housing, they no longer need to prioritize finding a place to sleep each night and can spend more time managing their health, making time for doctors’ appointments, and adhering to medical advice and directions. Housing also decreases the risk associated with further disease and violence. In many ways, housing itself can be considered a form of health care because it prevents new conditions from developing and existing conditions from worsening.