Housing is so important to health that those without a home die decades younger than those with a home. While the average life expectancy in the U.S. is almost 80, chronically homeless individuals can expect to live only to their 60s. One study by Jim O’Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, showed that the average life expectancy for the homeless in select cities was between 42 and 52 years.
Every day, a half-million people find themselves without a stable place to stay, and up to 3.5 million experience this at some point during the year. Homelessness impacts men, women and children across the U.S. in big cities and small towns. It impacts all races and ethnic groups, but disproportionately people of color. African-Americans and Latinos comprise 40.1 and 19.9 percent respectively. Families headed by women make up a third of the homeless, and well over 100,000 children are homeless each day. Half of those children are younger than 5.
The connection between housing and health is coldly logical. The sick and vulnerable become homeless, and the homeless become sicker and more vulnerable.
Although the tipping point is often the loss of a job, sickness or injury often precede it. Sickness and injuries make holding a job difficult, which leads to income declining and homelessness for those without a safety net. Due to the mostly employer-based health insurance coverage system in the U.S., no job means no health insurance. The combination of unemployment and poor health can then lead to financial ruin. Nerdwallet estimated that 57.1 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills, making it the leading cause of the financial calamity that often precedes homelessness.