Pushing Homeless Out of Encampments Can Bring Deadly Toll: Study

TUESDAY, April 11, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Forcibly moving homeless people away from their encampments is a widespread practice in the United States. And it may be killing them.

A new study found significant spikes in deaths, overdoses and hospitalizations with involuntary displacement of the homeless.

These forced movements contribute to 15% to 25% of deaths in this population over 10 years, according to researchers.

“Our research shows that these widespread practices that forcibly displace people are clearly impacting the health of this population, particularly when it comes to increasing their overdose risk, so much so that it actually decreases the life expectancy of the entire population,” said co-author Dr. Josh Barocas, associate professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Modeling studies like ours give us a sense of whether we’re headed in the right or wrong direction,” Barocas said in a university news release. “Our study showed that displacement could directly result in a quarter of deaths of this population. This tell us that this practice is taking us in the wrong direction if we want to solve issues around homelessness and substance use disorders.”

Using data from 23 U.S. cities, the researchers projected the long-term health effects of involuntary displacement of homeless people who inject drugs.

They modeled what the population looks like in real life, including their overdose risk and death rate. The team then modeled two scenarios over 10 years: no continual displacement and continual involuntary displacement.

Forced displacement never improved health outcomes in modeling scenarios. It did show a likely significant increase in illness, death and a shortened life expectancy, researchers said.

Displacement and bans increased overdose deaths, hospitalizations and injection-related infections, while hindering access to medications for opioid use disorder.

“It’s estimated that more than 500,000 people are experiencing homelessness in the U.S., and understanding the toll practices such as camping bans and sweeps take on such a substantial population is critical to emphasizing the need for care and services versus literally being swept aside,” Barocas said. “We hope these results inform future policies that actually mitigate the long-term health consequences in this population before it’s too late.”

Study findings were published April 10 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on health and homelessness.

SOURCE: University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, news release, April 10, 2023

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