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.
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This project was supported by operating grants from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (1 R01 HS014129-01) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP-62736) and by an Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement grant on Homelessness, Housing, and Health from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (HOA-80066). The Center for Research on Inner City Health gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. Dr. Hwang is the recipient of a New Investigator Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Dr. Kirst acknowledges support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
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Hwang, S.W., Kirst, M.J., Chiu, S. et al. Multidimensional Social Support and the Health of Homeless Individuals. J Urban Health 86, 791–803 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-009-9388-x
- Social support
- Physical health
- Mental health