Research published in Health Affairs finds that the impact of homelessness on infants goes beyond the effects of poverty, and lasts throughout early childhood. Across most indicators, children who experienced homelessness as an infant were more likely to have health problems, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits than children in poverty who did not experience infant homelessness. Through the end of the study (at age 6), infants exposed to homelessness still had higher rates of asthma and used emergency departments at higher rates. Specific findings in the study, “Infants Exposed To Homelessness: Health, Health Care Use, And Health Spending From Birth To Age Six,” include:.
- Infants who experienced homelessness were significantly more likely to visit the emergency department or be hospitalized by age 1 than infants in the comparison group. They were also hospitalized more frequently and incurred higher medical costs.
- During their first year of life, infants who experienced homelessness were also more likely to have low birthweights, upper respiratory infections, lower respiratory disease, a fever of unknown origin, allergic reactions, asthma, developmental disorders, and injuries from external causes than children in the comparison group.
- Through age 2, children who experienced infant homelessness were more likely to have fever and allergy diagnoses and to be admitted to the hospital than those in the comparison group.
- Through age 3, children with infant homelessness were more likely to have respiratory infections, injuries, and nutritional problems.
- Through the end of the study (at age 6), infants exposed to homelessness still had higher rates of asthma and used emergency departments at higher rates. The median annual health expenditures for children with infant homelessness remained higher than the comparison group every year in the study, although the difference narrowed over time.
The study follows previous research on homelessness during pregnancy. That study found that the adjusted odds of having nine pregnancy complications were also significantly higher for women accessing emergency shelter, and remained substantially unchanged after adjusted for behavioral health disorders. The authors note that shelter-based interventions to improve prenatal care are likely to be helpful, but may be received too late to reduce risk to a level comparable to that of women living in more stable housing. They recommend early and regular screening of pregnant women for unsafe or unstable housing to ensure continuous care, reduce pregnancy complications, and lower costs.