By Jan Motl

By Jan Motl

Housing decreases the number of visits to emergency departments by nearly 61%.

Click here to read the entire October 2019 newsletter

At any given time, approximately 97,000 Americans with disabling health conditions are homeless. Most of these individuals have been homeless for long periods of time – years, even decades – and are considered chronically homeless. They can be found sleeping in make-shift tents by a river, on streets, in parks, in cardboard boxes under bridges, abandoned buildings, or other places not meant for human habitation. They typically have a combination of medical conditions, mental health problems, and substance abuse disorders which worsen over time and often lead to early death. This is contrary to the dignity of human life.

A physical disability is one which impedes a person’s health and ability to function independently and is expected to be long-term. Poor health and homelessness are intrinsically linked. It is estimated half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are caused by health problems. A serious illness or disability can trigger a downward spiral into homelessness by missing too many days at work and thus losing a job, depleting one’s savings to pay outstanding health care bills, or falling behind on rent, causing eviction.

Poor health can be a cause of homelessness, but it can also be a result. Homeless people have higher rates of chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, injuries, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

Homeless persons cycle in and out of hospital emergency rooms, inpatient beds, psychiatric institutions, detox centers, and substance abuse treatment programs, all at a high public expense. According to Green Doors, an organization devoted to helping end homelessness in Central Texas, individuals struggling with homelessness:

  • Visit emergency rooms five times per year, with the highest users visiting weekly!
  • Each visit costs $3,700 or $18,500 per year for the average homeless person.
  • The highest users of emergency departments cost $44,400 per year.
  • 80% of these emergency room visits were for an illness that could have been treated with preventative care.

Some studies have found leaving a person chronically homeless costs taxpayers $30,000 – $50,000 a year.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, there is a proven solution to this – Supportive Housing. Supportive Housing is a critical factor in addressing the health concerns of the homeless population. Offering housing to the homeless decreases the number of visits to emergency departments by nearly 61%.

After they are housed, the formerly homeless are more receptive to interventions and social services support. For most, being housed reduces stress and symptoms related to health, mental health, or substance abuse. Safe and permanent housing can give them the stability they need to organize their lives, their health, and ultimately saves taxpayer money.

At Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, our Permanent Supportive Housing program is long-term rental assistance and accompanying supportive services. They are targeted toward individuals with disabilities and their families who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness. During the last fiscal year, this program provided housing, supportive case management and other surround services to 209 individuals. By providing housing and other services, we not only met their basic needs, but restored their human dignity.

If you’d like more information on our permanent supportive housing efforts, please contact Jan Motl at 816-259-5405 or


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