A public health approach to reducing morbidity and mortality among homeless people in Boston

J Public Health Manag Pract. 2005 Jul-Aug;11(4):311-6. doi: 10.1097/00124784-200507000-00009.


Urban homeless populations suffer disproportionately high rates of premature death. In response to a wave of highly publicized deaths on the streets of Boston during the winter of 1998-1999, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) convened a task force to investigate these deaths and implement an integrated response to this public health crisis. Comprised of a broad coalition of public and private agencies as well as homeless persons and advocacy groups, the MDPH Task Force reviewed the circumstances surrounding the 13 deaths, monitored subsequent deaths among homeless persons in Boston, and implemented a comprehensive plan to address critical needs and prevent further deaths. Contrary to the task force's initial assumption, the 13 decedents had multiple recent contacts with the medical, psychiatric, and substance abuse systems. In response to this finding, the MDPH Task Force sought to improve continuity of care and prevent future deaths among Boston's street population. Coordination of needed services was achieved through the creation of new, and often unconventional, partnerships. This case study exemplifies a public health practice response to the vexing health care challenges confronting homeless people who must struggle to survive on the streets and in shelters.

MeSH terms

  • Boston / epidemiology
  • Community Health Planning / organization & administration*
  • Community Participation
  • Health Care Coalitions
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Massachusetts
  • Morbidity*
  • Mortality*
  • Public Health Administration*
  • Urban Health Services / organization & administration*