Health care lack swells USA homelessness, study indicates FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 16 Dec 1999 20:53:59 -0800 (PST)
FWD  Yahoo News - Thursday, December 9 11:15 AM SGT


by Benjamin Kahn

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 - A landmark study on homelessness out Wednesday offers a
wealth of data supporting the view that flaws in the US health care system
are helping drive hundreds of thousands of Americans into life on the

"Lack of access to health services and lack of universal health care
coverage are both large factors contributing to homelessness," says health
policy analyst Bob Reeg of the Washington-based Coalition for the Homeless,
a nonprofit advocacy group.

"Poor people's inability to recover from health conditions to a level that
would enable them to work is a major cause" of homelessness, he says.

In fact, of 4,207 homeless people surveyed, 66 percent had serious, chronic
health problems but 55 percent had no medical insurance, according to the
new study, which was billed as the most comprehensive report on
homelessness ever.

Entitled "Homelessness: Programs and the People they Serve" and conducted
by the nonprofit Urban Institute for the US Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), the study finds that a full one third of the US homeless
population are families with children.

And one in every five homeless children in the United States has no health

That was the case for Terri Scofield's son Jesse when they found themselves
living in their car and surviving on food from McDonald's.

"He was sick during that time and it was absolutely frightening. I was
scared he would freakin' die. I was scared he wouldn't get health care,"
Scofield says.

Some 46 percent of the homeless respondents in the survey suffered from
serious physical ailments and 39 percent had mental health problems. Within
the year preceding the survey, some 74 percent had suffered drug or alcohol
addiction, or both, according to the report.

"It's really tough for a low-income person to succeed anyway, and then if
you have to drain some of your resources on health costs on top of rent and
food, it's very hard to juggle it all," says Reeg.

"Perhaps they're working for an employer that doesn't offer health
insurance -- the lack of sufficient income and the lack of health
insurance, combined, makes it difficult for them to recover from health
conditions to a level where they can return to work," he adds.

Mary Ann Gleason, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless,
says insufficient aid to people with medical disabilities is another major
cause of homelessness.

"Either you have to give disabled people adequate incomes, like they do in
many other parts of the world, or you have to provide the housing and
health care they need to become stable -- not doing either one is really
shameful," she says.

The report was handed out by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo Wednesday at the
House of Ruth, a transitional housing facility for homeless families in
Washington. He was accompanied by movie star William Baldwin, who heads the
Creative Coalition, an advocacy group representing members of the
entertainment industry.


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