Study shows health benefits of housing for homeless

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • May 13, 2009 @ 11:00 AM

Solutions to solve the health crisis among the city's homeless population is an ongoing challenge.

But researchers say a local program designed to give the homeless access to housing and case management reduces the need for hospitalization and visits to area emergency rooms.

In a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers trumpet the Chicago Housing for Health Partnership, or CHHP, and its ability to reduce hospitalization.

"Our study addressed a neglected group among the homeless, those with chronic medical illness," says Dr. Laura Sadowski, an internist at Stroger Hospital. "With poor access to health care, their illnesses are usually under-treated and more severe."

The four-year study, coordinated by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, involved more than 400 chronically ill homeless people, including 146 with HIV. The participants were randomly assigned to a group provided with housing and intensive follow-up care, or a group that received usual care in Chicago's network of shelters and programs.

After 18 months the group that was receiving usual care had a higher rate of hospitalizations and emergency visits. That translated to 160 more hospitalizations for that group than the group receiving additional help from CHHP.

The results show that providing a stable outlet, such as housing, greatly reduced the flare up of illnesses that force many of Chicago's homeless to the city's packed emergency rooms.

"These results provide a rationale and a blueprint for programs that address the needs of this vulnerable population," write the authors. A stable environment makes it easier for the homeless to get simple treatment, such as taking pills, they say.

"I've had patients attest to the importance of having a place to live to help stabalize their physical and emotional well-being," says Dr. Romina Kee, a doctor at Stroger.

Arturo Bendixen, vice president of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and CHHP director, says programs like CHHP assist the homeless in ways that hospitals cannot.

"Too often hospitals in our cities discharge their homeless patients to overnight shelters or other places, which cannot meet their special health care needs," Bendixen says.

CHHP, established in 2007, serves more than 230 housing subsidies for Chicago's homeless, assisting them with intensive case management services, which helps them in maintaining their health and securing long-term housing.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.