Health Disparities in the Homeless

Published By: Sarah Khan

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Research has drawn attention to the disproportionate association between health disparities and homelessness. In some cases, poor living standards can worsen health conditions, while in other cases, health issues can contribute to homelessness. The adverse living conditions of the homeless put them at higher risk for poor health, negatively affecting both their physical and mental health.

Several factors that homeless people experience can further aggravate their declining health status. These factors include:

  • Barriers to accessing health care services
    • Lack of transportation and the stigmatized mindset of some health care professionals towards the homeless may prevent them from getting the medical attention that they need. Homeless people have reported feeling unwelcome during previous encounters in healthcare settings, which affects their willingness to seek medical help in the future.
  • Hazardous weather
    • Extremely hot temperatures and excessive rain are native to Orlando. Sunburn, heatstroke, frostbite, and hypothermia are common problems that individuals may face.
  • Substance abuse
    • Misuse of drugs and/or alcohol has been observed among the homeless. In some cases, individuals may overdose or die as a result.
  • Nutrition and sanitation
    • Many homeless people experience hunger and starvation, and subsequently experience extreme nutritional
    • Many people that are homeless or vulnerably housed find themselves in unsanitary living conditions, contributing to their risk of infection.


Chronic health conditions are found in high numbers in the homeless population. Some of the most prevalent conditions are listed below:

  • Infectious diseases
    • Conditions such as hepatitis (A, B, and C), HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis, along with respiratory and skin infection, can arise due to lack of proper Additionally, people living in shelters can

contract infections due to overcrowding that often occurs in such facilities.

  • Respiratory diseases
    • Bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and COPD are common conditions among the homeless.
  • Mental health issues
    • It is understandable why most people experiencing homelessness experience mental health issues to some extent. Individuals may experience depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts.
    • Mental health and homelessness have a two-way relationship: either one can contribute to the other. Mental illness can impair an individual’s ability to maintain a stable income and relationships, which puts them at a greater risk of becoming homeless.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
    • People experiencing homelessness may develop arthritis due to their poor living conditions and having to constantly be on their feet.

The reality is that action can be taken towards addressing several of these problems. Raising awareness for nutritional deficiency and starvation, poor living conditions, substance abuse, and mental health issues is a step in the right direction.

About the author
Sarah Khan
Sarah Khan is based in Orlando, FL. She is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida. Sarah joined the Project Downtown Orlando team in January of 2020, and then went on to join the mentorship committee after enjoying her experience as a volunteer.

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