Stable housing together with tailored health care services are vital in addressing homelessness, according to new research by The University of Western Australia and Homeless Healthcare.
In a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia, UWA’s Associate Professor Lisa Wood and founder and Medical Director of Homeless Healthcare Dr Andrew Davies outline key recommendations for tackling the poor health of the homeless who have a life expectancy of up to 30 years lower than the general population.
Recommendations include prioritising access to stable housing, ensuring specialised health and community care for people experiencing homelessness and improving discharge planning. Establishing medical centres where people who are homeless can recover from illness is recommended as a cost-effective alternative to keeping people in hospital or discharging them on to the streets.
Professor Wood, from UWA School of Population and Global Health, said people experiencing homelessness faced many barriers to accessing primary care, from lack of transport to difficulty in contacting services and unaffordable healthcare. Past negative experiences of the health system and perceptions of being ‘judged’ could also lead to barriers in accessing primary care.
“People who are homeless have complex health conditions, yet are often disengaged from primary health care services and this places a significant and costly burden on the health system,” Professor Wood said.
“Our research shows that the huge expense incurred by hospitals when homeless people in crisis are admitted could be averted by improving access to community-based health services that understand the complex challenges faced by rough sleepers.
“By partnering with Homeless Healthcare we have built evidence that a more collaborative approach will help address vast health inequalities associated with homelessness in Australia.”
Dr Davies said that at the core of the poor health of homeless people was the absence of a safe and secure house in which to live.
“You can’t fix the health of people who are homeless with medical treatment alone – housing has to be part of the health solution,” he said.
“Many people who end up homeless have had traumatic life experiences and health professionals need to be mindful of this. Building relationships and trust with patients is therefore an important first step to improving their health.”
Jess Reid (UWA Media and PR Advisor)(+61 8) 6488 6876