http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/277081

Op-Ed: Health Issues And Concerns Relevant To The Homeless

Posted Aug 6, 2009 by Thom W. Conroy
Do we as a society need to examine better ways to address the health of the homeless, or are the present measures adequate?
Eating from a garbage can
Eating from a garbage can
Michael Cosgrove
In addition to the struggle to simply maintain a meager daily existence, the homeless face a unique set of health issues due to substandard living conditions and poor nutrition. Forgotten in many circumstances and unable to access basic social services, the homeless are often forced by their situation to endure many illnesses which are easily curable for the remainder of mainstream society. The exposure to extremes in weather, street violence, and alcohol and drug abuse make the homeless prone to a bevy of illnesses and diseases which given their weakened immune system can result in serious illness that are preventable.
In "normal" society, when an individual becomes ill the procedure to recovery is basic - go to a physician, rest, take prescription medications and maintain a healthy diet. In the scope of homelessness, these points to recovery are in most instances unrealistic and unobtainable due to the plight of poverty, A large part of health issues in the homeless is attributable to their inability to receive proper rest, and exposure to communicable diseases from other homeless people present a constant threat to good health. They are imprisoned by circumstance and powerless to make necessary, even temporary changes to enable recovery from the most basic of illnesses. The homeless most often are alone, with no one to assist them when they fall ill and become unable to care for themselves. Due to the predatory nature of life on the streets, when the homeless become sick they are placed in the precarious position of not only fighting the illness, but also defending against those that would take advantage of them in a weakened state.
A major concern with the health of homeless individuals is their reluctance in some cases to seek help even when it is available. Those who suffer from mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction may not realize that it is in their best interest to seek medical care, and as a result minor and correctable health issues can progress to life-threatening emergencies.
Even those homeless that are able to receive emergent care are often "treated and streeted" because of their inability to pay medical expenses. Prescription drug prices make them unaffordable to many working Americans, and a homeless person with a long-term health issue requiring daily medication has a small chance of following treatment regimens because of finances. Because of a lack of basic transportation, even when a free clinic is available, it is logistically impossible for many homeless individuals to utilize the opportunity.