Homelessness is a Significant Social Determinant of Health

Legislation to Address Social Determinants to Health and Fund Evidence-Based Approaches Introduced in Congress

Social determinants of health, such as homelessness or unstable housing or access to reliable transportation, are the economic and social conditions that affect an individual’s health and well-being.

Addressing these factors can have a meaningful impact on the prevention and management of chronic diseases in our communities.

On December 5, Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the Social Determinants Accelerator Act of 2019 (S.2986.) This proposed legislation addresses economic and social conditions that have significant impacts on health.

What would this legislation and funding mean for the work being done to end homelessness in New Jersey and across the country? The bill would create a new Social Determinants Accelerator Interagency Council, which would include the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.) This proposed council would be tasked with better coordinating and improving the impact of federally funded services and benefits.

The bipartisan bill would create a new grant program to provide state, local, and tribal governments, as well as their nonprofit and social entrepreneur partners, with additional capacity, resources, and support to pursue evidence-based approaches to overcome challenges in this field.

Homelessness or unstable housing with the risk of homelessness is a significant social determinant of health. Patients experiencing homelessness using hospital emergency departments are predisposed to worse health outcomes due to living outside, in shelters or cycling through systems and food insecurity. Patients experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness may have limited resources for taking care of health conditions, including chronic health conditions. For example, a homeless patient with diabetes may have difficulty managing this condition without an appropriate place to store insulin and access to nutritious food.

Patients experiencing homelessness may also reside in hard to reach places such as homeless encampments in the woods or be very transient and have little or no transportation. These issues around access create challenges for health care providers in reaching and staying connected to homeless patients. In order to effectively treat chronic illnesses, establishing the patient-provider relationships are critical.

Addressing economic and social conditions including our country’s homelessness crisis would have significant impacts on the health of vulnerable patients. The complete text of the legislation can be found here.