Homeless Are Older and Sicker Than Ever Before

Medical Respite Program Provides Shelter and Recovery to Elderly and Frail Homeless

In June of 2016, Mother Jones featured an article, “Homeless people are older and sicker than ever before. Here’s one way to help.” The articles tells the story of a program that is saving money by “prescribing housing.”

Tom Wesley, who is profiled in the article, faces multiple chronic health problems – diabetes and liver failure – and has also had multiple heart attacks. “Wesley, a towering man in a salmon-colored corduroy shirt buttoned just at the top, is only 54. But for most of his adult life, he lived on the streets. He refused to stay in shelters because he didn’t like the structure; he says he also spent a significant time behind bars for heroin possession. “You could say I was using heroin,” Wesley says with a smirk. “But I don’t know who was using who—it sure used me up.”

Although, Tom is now in recovery from substance abuse, his physical health has worsened in and he has been in and out of emergency rooms in an effort to manage his symptoms.

“Wesley’s experience isn’t unique. Sixty-six percent of the country’s chronically homeless people—those who have a disabling condition and who’ve been homeless for a year or more (or four times in three years)—are living on the streets.” These individuals are often called “super-utlizers’ of expensive emergency healthcare systems.

“According to one estimate from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, more than 80 percent of all homeless people have at least one chronic health condition. More than half have a mental illness.”

Individuals who are homeless face a live expectancy of about 25-35 years less than individuals who are not homeless.

Margot Kushel, who is a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco studied homeless people in their 50s and has also founded the San Francisco Medical Respite Program. This Respite Program is a “long-term medical shelter” that housed homeless individuals after they have been hospitalized.

This Respite Program is unique and plays a critical role. “If you’re experiencing homelessness,” says Michelle Schneidermann, the medical director at Respite, “you’re thinking about where you’re going to get your next meal and how you’re going to keep yourself safe, not where you’re going to refrigerate your meds or make your next appointment.”

Homeless people are older and sicker than ever before

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