Death Among the Homeless: New Study Sheds Light on Health Issues for Those Sleeping Rough: Public Health Watch


“Sleeping rough” earns its moniker.

And now, a new long-term study comparing mortality among homeless who reside in shelters with that of those who opt to sleep on the street proves just how hazardous the latter is to health—and not just for the people directly affected by it. In the 10-year analysis of the homeless population in Boston, Massachusetts, published on July 30 by JAMA Internal Medicine, the leading cause of death among those who opt to sleep rough—street slang for staying outside, irrespective of the weather, rather than in a shelter—was not infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C (which have historically been common in this population), but cancer and heart disease.

“It’s important to remember that issues related to substance abuse are common in the homeless population, and substance abuse in and of itself can be a barrier to getting screened and ultimately treated for these often-preventable conditions,” study lead author Jill Roncarati, ScD, MPH, PA-C, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, told Contagion®. “The issue of homelessness reflects many aspects of society: our medical system, housing, and public health. It’s not just a contained problem. And many of the homeless who are in poor health end up in emergency rooms, overwhelming the health care systems in many cities. So while many people may be annoyed by the homeless, or not want to see them, it’s important for communities to address health issues within this population.”

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