Prevalence of Homelessness in the Emergency Department Setting.

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INTRODUCTION: According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the national rate of homelessness has been cited as 17.7 homeless people/10,000 people in the general population, and 24.8 homeless veterans/10,000 veterans in the general population. However, it is unknown what the prevalence of homelessness is in the emergency department (ED) setting. We set out to determine the prevalence of homelessness or at risk for homelessness in the ED setting.

METHODS: Using a five-question screening tool derived from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration definition for homelessness, we surveyed all patients meeting inclusion/exclusion criteria on scheduled shifts in one of three EDs in Northeastern Pennsylvania. To participate, subjects had to be a registered patient in the ED, be 18 years or older, speak English, have the capacity to answer survey questions, not be critically ill, be willing to participate, and not have taken the survey before. We selected two survey periods to represent seasonal variations.

RESULTS: We included 4,395 subjects in the analysis. The mean age of those who screened positive for homelessness or at risk for homelessness was 43.1 (SD 16.6). Overall, 136 (3.1%) participants screened positive for at risk for homelessness and 309 (7.0%) screened positive for homelessness. A total of 103 subjects (9.8%) screened positive for homelessness or at risk for homelessness on weekends and 312 (10.3%) on weekdays (p=0.64). The proportion of those screening positive for homelessness or at risk for homelessness varied by site: 145 (7.5%) at the trauma center, 151(9.1%) at the suburban site, and 149 (18.7%) at the center city site, p

CONCLUSION: In our study, the overall prevalence of homelessness or at risk for homelessness was 10.1 percent. This prevalence did not seem to vary between weekdays and weekends. Additionally, summer months had a prevalence that was as concerning as winter months. The prevalence does, however, seem to vary by institutional characteristics even in the same geographic region. Understanding the patterns of prevalence of homelessness is a step toward considering possible interventions to assist this vulnerable population.





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Emergency Medicine | Medicine and Health Sciences




Department of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine Faculty, Department of Emergency Medicine Residents, Department of Medicine, Department of Medicine Faculty

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