, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 685-689

The Reality of Homeless Mobility and Implications for Improving Care

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Abstract

Homeless persons are perceived as a highly mobile population, and have high rates of co-morbid conditions, including mental health and substance use issues. This study sought to determine the characteristics of the mobility and reported health conditions of homeless persons. The sample for this cross sectional study (n = 674) accounted for 88 % of the homeless population in a medium sized southern city in the United States. Participants were recruited from a homeless shelter operating during the winter season. Homeless persons were less mobile than the general state population (46.11 % were born in-state vs. 40.7 % of the general population) and less transient than the general state population (78 % reported an in-state zip code for the last permanent residence). 31.9 % reported a disabling condition of a serious and long term nature. These findings challenge the concept that homeless persons are primarily a mobile population. Furthermore, homeless persons in this sample were more likely to remain in the state where they lived after becoming homeless. Thus, provider perceptions that homeless persons would not benefit from referral to a regular source of outpatient care may be misinformed. As homeless persons often seek care in emergency departments for conditions that could be addressed through outpatient care, if a medical care system implemented standard practices specifically for homeless patients, this could decrease recidivism. Such interventions represent significant opportunities to reduce costs, conserve resources, and improve care through policy modification that ensures a focus on a successful, active linkage to outpatient care and programs specific to the homeless population.