Unsheltered Homelessness Results from a Number of Risk Factors

Unsheltered Homelessness Results from a Number of Risk Factors

New research from UAB and Birmingham VA Medical Center's Stefan Kertesz, MD reports that among veterans experiencing homelessness, unsheltered experiences correlate with individual and community risk factors.

Kertesz, professor with UAB's Division of Preventive Medicine, says the study aimed to look at the causes of unsheltered homelessness in a survey of 5,406 veterans who have been homeless in the past two and a half years.

"Some claim that unsheltered homelessness is an addiction problem," Kertesz said. "I'm an addiction doctor, and I can say that is why, some of the time, a person ends up on the streets. But we wanted to offer a fuller and more evidence-based account of why some wind up homeless."

The survey examined personal and community characteristics, citing nine personal and two community factors including low income, criminal justice or jail history, poor social support, high psychological distress, medical conditions, drug problem, warm weather, and low shelter bed availability.

Each one of the personal and community characteristics added moderately to the chance of a person's having been homeless. When stacked together, the more risk factors a person had, the more likely they were to have been unsheltered in the previous six months.

"Let's depolarize the homeless discussion by using evidence," Kertesz said. "Yes, personal vulnerabilities can help in understanding who is going to wind up unsheltered. But it's just not one vulnerability like addiction. It's a stack of vulnerabilities and the more you have, the greater the chance you will be without a place to stay."