Unstable housing is a health care issue
In the July 4 edition, Joanna DiStefano’s guest essay on “Housing crisis needs a federal solution” hit home for me as a physician who has encountered numerous homeless patients or those with unstable housing.
Multiple studies have shown that being without stable housing can be detrimental to one’s health. Those who are unfortunately chronically homeless suffer from higher morbidity in both physical and mental health as well as increased mortality.
Lack of stable housing also leads to high health care expenditures due to overuse of emergency departments and inpatient hospital admissions in place of continuity in primary care clinics. Even those who are not chronically homeless but experience housing uncertainty (couch surfing, falling behind on rent, frequent moves) are more likely to face poor health compared to stably housed peers.
We also know that youth are at increased risk of teenage pregnancy, early drug use and depression when housing is unstable. Due to disruptions in employment and social security benefits, patients are unable to afford clinic copays or their medications (or even properly store medications if refrigeration is needed).
Providing access to stable housing can improve health and reduce health care costs. In a population of 10,000 people with unstable housing in Oregon, delivering affordable housing led to a decrease in Medicaid expenditure by 12%, increase in outpatient primary care use by 20% and a decrease in emergency department use by 18%.
I agree with Ms. DiStefano that affordable housing should be a priority of our congressional representatives as the benefits include a healthier population.