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America's Homeless Women Face Worsening Health

They're poorer and sicker than in the early 1990s, study shows

TUESDAY, July 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Homeless women in America have experienced a steady decline in mental, physical and financial health over the past decade, a new report finds.

This troubling trend also poses risks for developmental and behavioral problems among hundreds of thousands of children, warn researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

There are an estimated 400,000 families -- comprising about one million children -- who find themselves homeless each year in the United States, the study noted.

The researchers compared information from interviews conducted during a 1993 study of homeless women against data from a similar study of homeless mothers in Worcester, Mass, conducted in 2003.

While average total incomes were equivalent in the two studies, families in the 2003 study were poorer when the effects of inflation were taken into account.

Women in the 2003 study also appeared to have had more acute and chronic mental health problems, significantly poorer overall health, and more limitations in physical functioning. They also reported more limitations in their social abilities due to their physical or emotional health problems, the study said.

The researchers also found that the women in the 2003 study were four times more likely to be depressed than those in the 1993 study. Past studies have shown that homeless mothers with depression are unlikely to receive mental health services, and untreated depression can harm the development and well-being of both the mothers and their children.

The research team speculated that cuts in welfare, a decreased supply of affordable housing and a freeze in the U.S. federal housing rental subsidy program may have contributing to the trend.

The study is published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. Center for Mental Health Services has more about homeless people.

SOURCE: University of Massachusetts Medical School, news release, July 18, 2006
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