Young adolescents, families with children, immigrants, single men and women, and the elderly can experience homelessness. We do not yet have an effective system for the delivery of health treatment and prevention for this expanding population. They face numerous and complex health problems, often as a result of living in poverty, sleeping rough and dealing with tremendous day-to-day risks to their health. Preventative health strategies must be part of the continuum of care for these people.
On any given night in an average size Canadian city (population 800,000), approximately 1,000 individuals find themselves in emergency shelters. The occupancy rates of shelters consistently exceed 100%, leaving many people to sleep on the streets. The longer homelessness persists, the more likely an individual is to become a substance user and/or experience trauma. Individuals over age 50 experiencing homelessness are more likely to have chronic diseases with functional disability, hypertension, renal impairment and elevated cholesterol. Preventative health is a key aspect of providing a continuum of care.