A study released Monday by UCLA and UC Berkeley concludes mental and physical health care needs and traumatic experiences are “major factors” afflicting unsheltered homeless people, especially women.
“People experiencing homelessness face a number of challenges related to their health and well-being, but this new analysis suggests that people who are unsheltered are far more likely to encounter these problems and that the problems are exacerbated the longer they are unsheltered,” said Janey Rountree, executive director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA. “These issues were the most profound for unsheltered women, especially experiences with abuse and trauma.”
The California Policy Lab analyzed survey responses from more than 64,000 people ages 25 and older who were homeless, sheltered or sheltered, in 15 states from 2015 to 2017.
Both unsheltered and sheltered people reported experiences of abuse and/or trauma had caused them to become homeless, but 80% of unsheltered women reported abuse and/or trauma as the cause of their transiency — much higher rates than the 34% of unsheltered men who responded the same.
“While individuals who are sheltered report on average fewer health and mental health conditions, the data does not support a finding that shelter is the cause of improved health,” according to the Policy Lab, which operates out of UCLA and UC Berkeley.
About half of all unsheltered respondents said they suffer from a combination of physical and mental health issues and a substance abuse condition, what researchers call a state of “trimorbidity.” The number of people who reported those issues was more than 25 times the number of sheltered individuals.
In related news, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday that it analyzed more than 4,000 questionnaires taken as part of this year’s point-in-time homeless count and found that about 76% of individuals living outside on the streets in Los Angeles County reported being, or were observed to be, affected by mental illness, substance abuse, poor health or a physical disability.
The newspaper reported that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which conducts the annual count, narrowly interpreted the data to produce much lower numbers.
In its presentation of the results to elected officials earlier this year, the agency said 29% of the homeless population had either a mental illness or substance abuse disorder, but The Times said it found 67% were surveyed as having mental health or substance abuse issues.