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The Cost of Homelessness: Health & Healthcare

In our last post, we discussed the cost of poverty and the effects of inflation on low-income families. We’re going to continue this theme and share a little about the cost poverty and homelessness has on your health.

You see, housing stability is a social determinant of health, meaning the condition of the environments where people are born and live, can affect one’s health, functioning, and quality of life.

Many of us grew up in stable housing and were provided a safe place for our family to live continuously. Unstable housing is when families experience homelessness or frequent moves, struggle with the burden of rent and accessing housing, or even live in dangerous physical conditions with poor sanitation and exposure to allergens and pollutants. It can strain family relationships and be detrimental to a child’s development.

There is a lot of housing instability right in our backyard: in 2020, there were over 22,000 homeless children enrolled in public schools in Oregon. This includes children facing ongoing homelessness, living in shelters, or experiencing frequent moves. When children face housing instability and lack the permanence of a safe environment, their health and well-being are negatively affected.

Housing instability places extreme stress on everyone involved and can strain relationships between children and their families or caretakers. Research shows that when families or guardians are unable to meet or provide basic needs such as housing, instances of child abuse increase.

Additionally, poverty significantly impacts individuals’ physical and mental health. Low-income communities are more likely to be located nearer to major sources of pollution. In Salem, in the neighborhoods closest to I5 have median house prices around 360k. In comparison in the neighborhoods farthest away from I5, the median house price is 415k. This means lower-income individuals spend more time breathing automobile-produced air pollutants. These pollutants can lead to health issues later in life.

Mental health is also greatly impacted by poverty and homelessness. Homelessness is traumatizing, especially for children. Stress and the survival instinct can interfere with the basic life skills needed to function in society. It can also lead to diminished feelings of self-worth and sense of self. Often, children are struggling with worries about constant moving, abuse, creating friendship bonds, and the potential loss of safety and security of the home. These can lead to mental health, behavioral, and performance struggles in school. The stress may also cause chronic absenteeism, as homelessness is one of the leading factors for students missing school, and can lead to children repeating grades or dropping out completely.

Physical and mental health issues are further compounded by the cost of medical care. Some families without health insurance may not be able to afford regular preventative care such as going to the dentist, a family doctor, or a therapist. Even when a family has insurance through their employer, some low-income people can’t afford the copay for their care.

When minor injuries are sustained families may put off seeking care until the injury becomes greater and they have to access Urgent Care or the Emergency Room for medical care. We all know that ER bills can get expensive, and many families may end up with medical debt because they weren’t able to afford insurance or preventative care. Additionally, the out-of-pocket cost of mental health resources can make it nearly inaccessible to low-income people. This means many people that are dealing with high levels of stress and trauma do not have the resources to access the help they need to function in our community. Even when a family has insurance through their employer, some low-income people can’t afford the copay for their care.

In Oregon, low-income families are eligible for health insurance through Oregon Health Plan (OHP). This can help families access low-cost preventative care and low-cost mental health resources. We see the difference this makes in the lives and health of the homeless families and children in our programs.

If you’re reading this, it’s clear you care about children and you’re working with us to ensure every child has a safe place to call home. Through our prevention, shelter, and stabilization programs, we work to create the security and stability to ease families out of poverty and connect them to stable housing so we can achieve our goal of providing a safe place for all children to grow. Your support is so important to our mission. You can donate to our Family Fund, purchase items on our needs list, and volunteer with us! These are small ways you can help be part of the solution that ends homelessness for a family.

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