Objectives: This study examines the relationship between residential instability, including mobility and previous homelessness, and the use of medical care among previously sheltered and never-sheltered mothers in New York City. The study represents one of the first efforts to follow up on families after they are no longer homeless.
Methods: Mothers from 543 welfare families in New York City were interviewed, once in 1988 (Time 1) and again beginning in 1992 (Time 2). The sample included 251 families who first entered shelters after their 1988 interview, and 292 families who spent no time in shelters before or after that point. Mothers were asked about the source and volume of medical care used in the year before follow-up.
Results: Bivariate and multivariate analyses showed that previously sheltered mothers had a greater reliance on emergency departments (EDs) and weaker ties to private physicians or health maintenance organizations (HMOs) than did mothers who never used shelters. Mobility before the Time 1 interview was associated with greater reliance on EDs and absence of a usual source of care. More recent mobility was not associated with a usual source of care. Current residential stability reduced the likelihood of using an emergency department or having no regular source of care. None of the measures of residential instability were related to the volume of outpatient care used by mothers.
Conclusions: A history of residential instability, particularly previous shelter use, strongly predicts where poor mothers currently seek health care. Further research is needed to determine whether these patterns of health care use existed before mothers entered shelters. The study provides evidence that upon leaving shelters, mothers are not being well integrated into primary care services.