Homelessness Jeopardizes Health! Who Knew?

In 2008, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago led a coalition of hospitals and housing groups in conducting a study that investigated the impact of housing on health. The study was called the Chicago Housing for Health Partnership, or CHHP.

The study surveyed a group of 407 homeless folks that were battling with chronic illnesses. Half of the participants were placed in permanent housing with intensive follow-up by a social worker. The other half received ‘usual care,’ which included access to emergency shelters as well as recovery programs. Over the course of four years, doctors measured the health implications of permanent versus non-permanent housing.

The findings were stark.

The participants living in permanent housing utilized “one-third fewer inpatient hospital days and one-quarter fewer emergency room visits” than folks receiving ‘usual care.’ Additionally, there were 583 hospitalizations in the permanent housing group, while there were 743 in the ‘usual care’ group. Such results prove that permanent housing improves health dramatically.

Specifically, participants battling with HIV saw their health significantly enhanced. The study found the following:

  • After one year, 55 percent of HIV-positive participants in the intervention arm had a relatively healthy immune system, compared to 34 percent in the usual group.
  • 40 percent of HIV-positive participants in the intervention group had undetectable levels of HIV in their blood, indicating that treatment was highly successful, compared to 21 percent of usual care participants.
  • The median HIV viral load was 87 percent lower in the intervention group. A low viral load is evidence that treatment is working and reducing levels of HIV in the bloodstream.

Permanent housing accompanied by case management not only improved participant’s health, but it also saved the city a significant amount of money. The experiment proved that of “every 100 chronically homeless individuals housed [the government] will save nearly $1M in public funds per year.” According to The Wall Street Journal, the study elucidated that 201 participants living in permanent housing spent 5,500 days in nursing homes, while 206 ‘usual care’ participants spent 10,023 days in nursing homes. The difference in services amounted to approximately $500,000. While some perceive permanent housing as an unreasonably high expenditure, continuing to pursue the status quo is perpetuating our current deficit.

The CHHP study illustrates that permanent housing breaks the cycle of poverty. As affordable housing becomes scarcer and government continues to cut social services, we worry that folks with low or no income will have less access to permanent housing.  To adequately lessen the pervasiveness of homelessness and curtail chronic illness, providing stable and sustainable alleviation measures is necessary.

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