Homeless, rooming house residents at risk for early death: study

Canadians living in homeless shelters and rooming houses have a much shorter life expectancy than the general population — and poverty is not the only factor contributing to their premature deaths, researchers conclude.

Canadians living in homeless shelters and rooming houses have a much shorter life expectancy than the general population — and poverty is not the only factor contributing to their premature deaths, researchers conclude.

In a 10-year study, researchers found the chance of surviving to age 75 among the homeless or inadequately housed is 32 per cent for men and 60 per cent for women, compared to 51 per cent and 72 per cent respectively for the lowest income group in Canada’s population.

To put that in perspective, the probability that a 25-year-old man living today in marginal housing would make it to age 75 is equal to the life expectancy of the average young male in 1921 — long before the advent of antibiotics and other life-saving treatments.

For homeless or poorly housed females, their chance of surviving to 75 is the same as women in the general populatio in 1956.

“Even compared to the poorest one-fifth of the Canadian population, people living in shelters, rooming houses and hotels had a much lower probability of survival,” said lead researcher Dr. Stephen Hwang, an internal medicine specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto’s downtown core.

“In fact, the men living in rooming houses are four times more likely to die (prematurely) than people in the general population.”

There are many factors that contribute to a lower life expectancy, said Hwang, noting that illnesses linked to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as tobacco-related diseases, are “greatly increased in this population.”

“For people living in these marginal housing situations, their access to care and the control of their chronic conditions is worse than in the general population,” he said.

Those in shelters and rooming houses often suffer from mental illnesses and suicide is more common. Exposure to deadly violence also occurs more often when compared to the general population, he said.

“I guess violence and injury travel with poverty, and so the individuals are more than just poor, they’re living in . . . situations that probably further increase the risk (of death).”

The study, published online Monday by the British Medical Journal, looked at 1991 census data on 15,100 people of varying ages across Canada, who reported being homeless or living in rooming houses or hotels.

Using death records, the researchers determined 3,280 had died in the next 10 years, allowing them to calculate mortality rates and life expectancy for different age groups.

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