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Lutchmun, Wandini; Gach, Janina; Borup, Christiane; Froeschl, Guenter (2022): Chronic diseases and multi-morbidity in persons experiencing homelessness: results from a cross-sectional study conducted at three humanitarian clinics in Germany in 2020. BMC Public Health, 22: 1597. ISSN 1471-2458

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Persons experiencing homelessness (PEH) suffer a high burden of chronic diseases and multi-morbidity, yet face significant barriers in accessing healthcare services. These health inequalities were further aggravated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is a lack of comprehensive health data on PEH, even less is known about populations experiencing housing exclusion, a hidden form of homelessness. This study examines and compares chronic diseases and multi-morbidity in PEH, persons experiencing housing exclusion, and persons with secure housing who lacked access to regular healthcare services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany.

Study participants were adults who sought medical care at clinics of the humanitarian organisation “Ärzte der Welt” in Munich, Hamburg and Berlin in 2020. The patients were categorised into three housing groups according to the ETHOS classification of homelessness and housing exclusion. Socio-demographic characteristics, self-rated health, chronic diseases and multi-morbidity were described in each group. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify socio-demographic factors associated with higher odds of chronic diseases and multi-morbidity in each housing group.

Of the 695 study participants, 333 experienced homelessness, 292 experienced housing exclusion and 70 had secure housing. 92.3% of all patients had either no or limited health coverage, and 96.7% were below the poverty line. Males and EU/EEA citizens were highly represented among PEH (74.2% and 56.8% respectively). PEH had lower self-rated health (47.8%, p = 0.04), and a higher prevalence of psychiatric illness (20.9%, p = 0.04). In adjusted analyses, belonging to the age group 35–49 and ≥ 50 years were associated with greater odds of chronic disease (AOR = 2.33, 95% CI = 1.68–3.24; AOR = 3.57, 95% CI = 2.55–5.01, respectively) while being ≥ 50 years old was associated with multi-morbidity (AOR = 2.01, 95% CI = 1.21, 3.33). Of the 18 participants tested for SARS-COV-2, 15 were PEH, 1 of whom tested positive.

Housing status was not an independent risk factor for chronic disease and multi-morbidity in our study population. However, PEH reported poorer self-rated and psychiatric health. Strategies to improve access to healthcare services amongst persons experiencing homelessness and housing exclusion are needed in Germany.

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