, Volume 86, Issue 5, pp 791-803
Date: 23 Jul 2009

Multidimensional Social Support and the Health of Homeless Individuals

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Homeless individuals often suffer from serious health problems. It has been argued that the homeless are socially isolated, with low levels of social support and social functioning, and that this lack of social resources contributes to their ill health. These observations suggest the need to further explore the relationship between social networks, social support, and health among persons who are homeless. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between multidimensional (cognitive/perceived and behavioral/received) social support and health outcomes, including physical health status, mental health status, and recent victimization, among a representative sample of homeless individuals in Toronto, Canada. Multivariate regression analyses were performed on social support and health outcome data from a subsample of 544 homeless adults, recruited from shelters and meal programs through multistage cluster sampling procedures. Results indicated that participants perceived moderately high levels of access to financial, emotional, and instrumental social support in their social networks. These types of perceived social supports were related to better physical and mental health status and lower likelihood of victimization. These findings highlight a need for more services that encourage the integration of homeless individuals into social networks and the building of specific types of social support within networks, in addition to more research into social support and other social contextual factors (e.g., social capital) and their influence on the health of homeless individuals.