Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why Mom's health can make a family homeless

The sixth policy brief from the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) spotlights Mom’s health as big factor when financially fragile families become homeless.

It isn’t really surprising when you think about it, and we see it quite often in the homeless families who come into our program.

All poor women “experience physical and mental health challenges at greater rates than their non-poor counterparts. Poor women often lack access to health care and are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors than those who are not poor. Women and children living in poverty are also exposed to physical and social environments, such as unsafe neighborhoods, toxins, and social isolation, which in addition to stress from the experience of poverty itself can be damaging to health. Residential crowding and poor housing quality have also been linked to adverse health outcomes.”

It follows that health problems can make it difficult for poor women to stay employed and maintain any kind of stability. They are less likely to have jobs with paid sick leave and flexible child care than women who aren’t poor. About 10% of very low income women on welfare lose their jobs due to poor health.

Not just single parent families are vulnerable to homelessness if Mom is in poor health. A number of our two-parent families became homeless when family income plummeted because Mom lost her job as a result of a difficult pregnancy or other health issues.

There aren’t any easy answers to improving the health of very low income families. While homeless children have Medicaid, the parents have no health care coverage. They rely on emergency room visits rather than an ongoing doctor/patient relationship.

What we can do is give them a safe, stable place to live for a while and the counseling to deal with their mental health issues. We can advocate for our clients in managing their own health care and equip them to better manage it after they leave for their own permanent homes.