Healthcare Needs for Homeless Men and Women

A homeless encampment

Helping the homeless can take different forms — food, shelter, and donations in kind, for example. However, another aspect of homeless aid comes from free and accessible healthcare. Homeless people are at risk of physical, mental, and social burdens that impact their morbidity and mortality compared to the rest of the general population. A Nature article on healthcare for the homeless attributes factors such as extreme poverty and harsh living environments as causes of poor health for the homeless, not to mention the prevalence of alcohol and drug dependence within the demographic. In fact, according to the World Bank, the average life expectancy for people experiencing homelessness in the US is 50 — approximately 28 years less than the overall, average life expectancy.

In a previous City Mission post about common ailments, we discussed how homeless people who live outdoors are more exposed to elements, making them vulnerable to wounds and skin infections. On top of that, homeless people are prone to malnutrition due to a lack of steady access to food — healthy food in particular — as well as mental health problems due to costly psychiatric help that is often inaccessible to them. At our Medical Clinic, some of the most common health issues experienced by our residents range from mental health to diabetes, hypertension, and COPD.

Another critical point in the struggle for appropriate healthcare is that most people experiencing homelessness choose to ignore their health issues for a long time. They only seek help once in severe pain or showing symptoms of advanced medical conditions. Our Medical Clinic Manager, Rich Moore, observes that many of the homeless he works with "have a fear of getting a diagnosis because it would be just one more problem" for them, from how to afford expensive medications to how to store them. Today, we want to highlight some of the ways we are making healthcare more accessible to the homeless:

Ways to support them

At City Mission, our Medical Care services include new medical facilities that offer free preventive, primary, and urgent healthcare to those who may need it. This includes drug-free pain management as well as chiropractic services. When residents first arrive at City Mission, our first order of business is helping them get Medical Insurance before setting them up with a Primary Care Physician through our partners at Centerville Clinics. We also provide referrals to additional medical providers and services. Many of the residents who come to us do not have cell phone or can no longer afford their a phone plan, so we help those who qualify for the Lifeline program to receive free cell phones so they can easily communicate with their medical providers.  On top of these healthcare necessities, we also provide them with the tools to help themselves, such as access to nutritious meals, hygiene items, and clean, comfortable beds.

However, we can still do a lot to make necessary healthcare accessible to those who need it. Here are a few:

Connect them with telehealth professionals

While on-site healthcare and free clinics contribute significantly to providing medical care for the homeless, an alternative that can widen the program's reach and impact is helping them connect remotely to healthcare professionals. During the pandemic, remote nurse practitioners here in Pennsylvania and across the US were well-equipped to prescribe primary care services like erectile dysfunction, birth control, UTI, and similar treatment areas – which are essential for the quality of life among homeless patients. Today, telehealth services remain effective for mental health services, connecting patients in need to qualified and trained professionals who are available on more flexible schedules than their in-person counterparts. Services from telehealth nurse practitioners are accessible and essential, given the rapidly-aging population in PA.

In some cases, telehealth services can be helpful in place of physical hospitals and clinics as the homeless may need immediate care or advice. As they are more vulnerable to certain diseases, having remote, 24/7 access to qualified healthcare providerscan help them get medical advice and care when needed.

Provide access to self-care interventions

Aside from telehealth access, providing accessible healthcare to the homeless can include self-care interventions. Research from the World Health Organization defines self-care as the ability to maintain health with or without a health worker. This ranges from eating a healthier diet to varying ways of managing stress. Self-care interventions include evidence-based devices, diagnostics, and digital technologies provided outside formal health services and used with or without a health worker.

As you can see, there are many ways to help make appropriate and free medical care accessible to the homeless. These are made possible thanks to advancements in digital technologies. With the collective effort of volunteers and communities, we can continue to find new ways to bring quality healthcare closer to homeless men and women.

November 1, 2022
None Available
Jessie Calix
Guest Contributor
Jessie Calix is a lifestyle blogger and health enthusiast who graciously researched and wrote this article exclusively for

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