8 November 2013
Discover Chicago Poverty Amidst Plenty
Final Research Paper
Health of Chicago's Homeless
As stated in the Declaration of Independence, all Americans are guaranteed the unalienable right to life and the pursuit of happiness. In order to uphold these rights, we are required to provide proper health care to protect the lives and happiness of the people. In cities such as Chicago that have significant homeless populations, the number of people with poor health and without access to adequate health care is well above the national average. To address the issue of the health and health care deficit of Chicago's least affluent populations, the city must begin by providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless and paying close attention to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in order to ensure that it does not neglect the needs of certain subpopulations.
History of Homelessness in Chicago
Prior to the early 1980’s, communities would primarily associate homelessness with the
Great Depression, viewing these people as victims of financial crisis but not much different from themselves. However, following a rush of major media coverage in the 1980’s when congressman Ron Dellums held the first contemporary congressional hearing on homelessness, the community’s view of the health of the homeless became much less sympathetic. The public began to heavily associate homelessness with drug and alcohol abuse or mental illness. (Modern
Homelessness, 24) News coverage continued to escalate in the 1990’s when a homeless woman
died at a bus stop just outside the federal agency of Housing and Urban Development. Her death was highly publicized and represented a greater social issue. In response, President Reagan enacted the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness, signed in 1987, which began funding for emergency food and shelter, transitional programs, supportive services, and permanent housing. Six years later, President Clinton released a new federal strategy to meet the health care needs the country’s most underserved populations in his 1993 executive order.
(Modern Homelessness, 25) Although this raised funding slightly, it caused no significant breakthroughs in providing proper health care for the homeless. More than 10 years later, the health of Chicago’s poorest populations remains a major issue.
One major contributing factor to Chicago’s lack of adequate health care is the economic crisis of 2008. As the economy began to decline and unemployment rates increased, the homeless population skyrocketed. Reports from the Household Survey stated that the unemployment rate increased from 8.9% to 9.5% in June of 2009, adding threequarters of a million Americans to the unemployment list. (Employment and Homelessness) This caused a rapid increase in the number of people living on the streets by 3%, or 20,000 people, according to the Department of Health and Human Service’s report “State of Homelessness in America” in
2009. (Cauvin) “Analysts say that the recession has fueled an increase in the uninsured, a segment of the population that already was growing as health care costs have continued to rise, putting medical coverage out of reach for more Americans.” (Jaspen) This increase in the number of homeless and uninsured is still evident today.
Effects of Homelessness
Lack of adequate health care for the homeless in Chicago has ongoing negative effects
not only on this uninsured population but also on the rest of the city. On the surface, living on the streets causes drastic health issues. Dampness and coldness are strongly correlated with childhood asthma as well as depression in adults. In shelters, indoor air pollution, pet infestation, and overcrowding can lead to the transmission of illness and disease. Homelessness is also highly associated with miscarriage, stillborn birth, infant mortality, and the birth of children with