OECD18: ‘Healthcare for All: Homelessness, Addiction and Mental Health: How can we better access health care systems for people living on the streets?’

By April Cunningham (Central Queensland University)

Homelessness is a complex and increasing issue, with more than 4 million people a year experiencing it worldwide. At a recent symposium conducted at the 2018 Organisational Economics Co-operation Development (OECD) Meeting in Paris, a number of parties came together to discuss the factors contributing to homelessness around the world.

According to Freek Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, homelessness is more than just a social issue, it is a mental health issue. Indeed, mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are major factors toward homeless peoples’ health and wellbeing. Often mental health triggers, such as the experience of trauma, learning difficulties, addiction, or schizophrenia, can create additional challenges for individuals and contribute to homelessness (Azais et al., 2018).

Generally, those experiencing homelessness are the most at need of appropriate mental and physical health care, however, they are often the ones who have the most challenge accessing health care systems. Representatives at the symposium called for more to be done to connect healthcare systems and mainstream government policies to facilitate this (Azais et al., 2018). 

Housing is a vital solution for homelessness. Boris Azaïs, Director, Public Policy, Europe and Canada supports this idea and claims “an effective basic ingredient towards closing this healthcare gap is effective housing.” For example, the exposure and spread of medical conditions, such as HIV, drop dramatically when people are provided with effective, stable housing. It is essential that governments and non-government organisations work together to provide the homeless with practical pathways that allow for appropriate housing.

In addition, homeless people face significant prejudice when accessing health care services. Francesca Colombo, Head of Division, Health, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs - OECD stated that the general public needs to challenge their thinking and “stop to think about our commonalities and our similar challenges within this group.” In order to eradicate prejudices, societies need to advocate and engage with those most affected by homelessness to ensure that their views and perspectives are valued and taken into account in the development of better-informed solutions. 

References

Azais, B., Colombo, F., & Spinnewijn, F. (2018, May). Healthcare for All: Homelessness, Addition and Mental Health. Symposium conducted at the Organisational Economics Co-operation Development (OECD) Meeting, Paris, FRANCE.