The needs of a person experiencing homelessness may seem clear. Shelter is priority No. 1, right? But, the fact is that although finding safe haven is indeed imperative, there is a battery of other often-unarticulated issues linked to being unhoused. And, without a way of identifying those myriad issues—as unique as the people experiencing them—moving toward a solution is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
But, The Floating Hospital found these issues could be revealed in a simple and direct way: just by asking.
Project director Sarajane Brittis Ph.D., and coordinator Habiba Alcindor were the force behind this year’s Social Determinants of Health Study, a questionnaire that gathered critical data on everything from patient environment and living conditions to quality of life and education for children to basic daily-living needs, and other key factors.
The questions were designed not only to hone in on specific issues, but also give voice to the voiceless, whose unfiltered comments revealed the brutal domino effect of homelessness.
“So many things were coming from our patients,” says Dr. Brittis, whose other specialty is organizational development focused on healthcare. “Many of our patients said that no one had ever asked them what we were asking—questions that showed an interest in their lives. They opened up and told us about their struggles with trying to access basic needs like food, clothing, housing, childcare and even internet service.”
Dr. Brittis said nearly everyone expressed the desire to get out of their present circumstances and build a better life for themselves and their children. “We found that listening and systematically identifying their barriers was a critical first step towards building a concrete program that will tangibly help bring positive changes in their lives.”
And what they heard was poignant. Said one respondent, “I feel like I’m in a pit. I see the light to climb out so close, and yet I’m so far… my blood pressure has gone up and I’m now on five medications because of tremendous stress.” It was an issue echoed by many of the nearly 400 survey respondents.
“Stress has an enormous impact on health, especially when you feel voiceless, judged, and stuck in the homeless system,” Dr. Brittis said.