Medical Respite Care as a Response to the Health Needs of People Experiencing Homelessness

When compared to the general population, people experiencing homelessness suffer from disproportionately poorer health, and they are consistently associated with more frequent use of hospitals and longer hospital stays. Complicating matters, health services are increasingly being provided on an outpatient basis and hospital stays are becoming shorter. While these individuals may not be ill enough for hospitalization, safe recuperation alternatives are rare.

The medical respite care model addresses this aspect of the homeless individual’s health care needs, filling a gap between hospital and community care. Programs that implement this model provide temporary shelter and post-acute medical care for individuals who are not ill enough to be in hospital, but are too ill or frail to safely recover from a physical illness or injury on the streets or in a homeless shelter.

This report presents a critical review of the research on how homelessness affects health, the trends of homelessness in Toronto, the concepts related to medical respite care, various medical respite care models and their components, the impacts of medical respite care, best practices, and challenges.

The initial purpose of this literature review was to provide background information for the 2014 Program Evaluation of the Sherbourne Health Centre Infirmary Program, a medical respite program in Toronto, Canada.

More broadly, this literature review is also highly applicable to other agencies or professionals who are interested in learning about medical respite care, designing medical respite programs, or improving existing ones.

Publication Date: 
Toronto, ON, Canada