Homelessness, Substance Misuse, and Access to Public Entitlements in a soup kitchen population

Peter C. Nwakeze, Stephen Magura, Andrew Rosenblum, and Herman Joseph

January 2003

This study examines the effects of homelessness on access to public entitlements (Medicaid and food stamp programs) in a soup kitchen population. Data were collected between 1997 and 1999 from a sample of 343 adults at two soup kitchen sites in New York City. Five hypotheses were tested, focusing on the effects of housing status (literal homelessness, unstable housing, and domiciled), frequency of drug/heavy alcohol use, drug/alcohol-user treatment history, and childcare responsibilities on access to Medicaid and food stamp programs were tested. Multiple logistic regression analysis indicated that both literal homelessness and unstable housing were associated with less access to Medicaid and food stamps. Other significant findings were: current drug/alcohol-user treatment experience was associated with greater access to both Medicaid and food stamps, frequency of drug/heavy alcohol use was associated with less access to Medicaid only, and caring for children was associated with greater access to food stamps only. These findings support the crucial role of housing status in mediating access to entitlements, and the importance of drug/alcohol-user treatment involvement as a cue to seeking entitlements. The need to reduce health disparities through active and sustained outreach programs designed to enhance homeless persons’ access to Medicaid and food stamp programs was discussed.

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