Asking the right questions of disadvantaged and homeless communities: the role of housing, patterns of illness and reporting behaviours in the measurement of health status

Aust N Z J Public Health. 2001 Aug;25(4):298-304. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-842x.2001.tb00583.x.


Objective: To assess the self-reported health status and its relationship to key demographic variables among patrons of a charity-run meals service at The Exodus Foundation, in urban Sydney, Australia.

Method: Random-sample cross-sectional study of 100 face-to-face interviews (79% recruitment rate). Self-reported health status was measured by subjective rating scale, open-ended and checklist questions about presence and type of acute and chronic disease. Anaysis by logistic regression of fair-poor health status on demographic variables in Exodus patrons and genera Sydney population adjusted for age and sex using the 1995 National Health Survey.

Results: Compared to housed but poor counterparts within the Exodus sample, homeless people were significantly more likely to report fair-poor health status (age-adjusted OR-3.0, 95% CI 1.3-7.1). Exodus patrons, as a whole, were much more likely than Sydney's general population to report fair-poor health status, after adjusting for age and sex (OR-4.5, 95% CI 2.9-7.0) and had a more serious pattern of illness (diseases of the digestive system; depression; common cold; bronchitis; refractive errors; drug and alcohol dependence; diabetes mellitus Type II). Exodus patrons reported fewer acute and chronic illnesses with open-ended questions than with a checklist (p<0.001).

Conclusion: In this population there was a strong relationship between poor health and homelessness. When patterns of illness and injury were measured within this disadvantaged group, they showed more serious illness types than in the general population. Such patterns may not be identified by methods often used in traditional population health surveys.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease / classification
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Homeless Persons / psychology
  • Homeless Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Self-Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors