12/04/2013 - Homelessness is a Public Health Issue

I approach homelessness through the lens of public health as my masters degree is in epidemiology.  So I was quite excited to learn that the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans had organized a supplement to the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health with a focus on homelessness. Vince Kane, the Director of the Center, and Dr. Dennis Culhane, the Center’s Director of Research, served as guest editors. The publication covers research related to policy and practice and is an excellent source for planners, clinicians and program administrators on what is working in a host of disciplines.  The topics covered include permanent supportive housing, screening, prevention, primary care, and behavioral health. 

USICH Chair and VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, and HUD Secretary, Shaun Donovan, co-authored the article, “Homelessness is a Public Health Issue.” Noting “there is a public health crisis playing out on the street of our nation’s communities” and they issued a call to arms, “homeless Veterans—all homeless Americans—must not remain our invisible citizens. What they need are permanent housing, jobs, education, and quality healthcare.”

As Secretaries Donovan and Shinseki point out, President Obama and Congress have allocated significant resources in support of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness on a single night decreased 24 percent (from 76,329 to 57,849) while chronic homelessness has shrunk by 16 percent. These gains are no doubt a product of collaboration across Federal agencies, particularly HUD and VA, and the implementation of evidence-based, research-informed interventions by local communities.

This special issue of the American Journal of Public Health is one example of how much progress has been made in research on homelessness and the ways in which research findings are informing policy and practice. Papers in this issue address homelessness experienced by elderly individuals, children and families, and Veterans; housing intervention and rehabilitation models; the intersections of homelessness and substance abuse, mental health, and childhood adverse experiences.; and homelessness prevention. Among the 37 papers, commentaries, and briefs there is something for everyone committed to ending homelessness through sustainable systems of prevention and support.  I urge you to read it online or in print.  You’ll be informed and inspired.  And perhaps you’ll consider how homelessness looks through the lens of public health.

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