Treat Homelessness Like the Health Issue It Is

Last spring a group of students, led by their Professor Dr. Debra Harkins, came up with  Bill H.3933, which is based on an idea out of Hawaii that says homelessness should be treated as a medical condition; this could allow doctors to write prescriptions for housing. I know, it sounds far fetched, but when you think about it, the idea makes perfect sense.

I was lucky when I was homeless: I was young and had my health. Today it is almost a guarantee that I would be spending a majority of my time in emergency rooms and lengthy hospital stays. No matter how good agencies like Healthcare for the Homeless are, it is still a struggle to stay healthy while living on the streets. You’re dealing with the elements, you will never get anything close to a proper rest, and taking your meds when you need them is almost impossible.

Many homeless people spend a great deal of time in emergency rooms, and for some it’s the only time that they can truly rest and truly heal. Sadly at some point many give up, they can’t take care of themselves, the shelter system won’t and with little or no support many die way before their time. Not as many homeless die from substance abuse as you may think, many die from poor health. As for those in semi good health? Again you can’t search or hold onto a job if you’re sick most of the time, most shelters tend to be unsanitary, germs roam freely through the air, things like colds and sore throats are everywhere, and forget about housing authorities making you a priority if you can’t stay healthy. There are thousands of people on housing lists, don’t expect the housing authorities to wait on you to be healthy.

If it seems like I’m trying to sell you on this bill, I am. You’re already thinking “So where does the money for this come from? Well peeps, the money is already there. We already have Medicaid. Prescriptions could be written every six months. I know we could run out of that quickly, but not so fast; the funds would go to those most in need, people who have disabling conditions such as diabetes, COPD, congestive heart failure, severe kidney disease, etc. In fact it could save taxpayers $3 million which is far less than the cost to taxpayers every time a homeless person checks in at an emergency room – and I know how some of you folks like to save money.

So if that’s what you want to do and better the lives of those less fortunate? Get behind this bill, call your senator, mention Bill H. 3933 and say let’s do this!

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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