Homelessness and Housing Crises Among Individuals Accessing Services Within a Canadian Emergency Department

J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2015 Aug;22(6):354-9. doi: 10.1111/jpm.12212. Epub 2015 May 20.


Accessible summary: Studies have indicated that individuals who are homeless access hospital emergency departments more frequently and may have different needs than individuals who are housed. Successful interventions have been developed and tested to reduce discharge to homelessness for psychiatric inpatients but have not been similarly tested for discharge from emergency departments. This study was developed to provide baseline data on this issue to inform future emergency department interventions. Findings from the current study suggest that discharge from emergency departments to homelessness happens frequently in London, Canada. Participants are unlikely to spontaneously disclose their housing/homelessness issue when first entering the emergency department, which may result in services that do not adequately meet their complex needs. Screening for housing issues is necessary within emergency departments and psychiatric crisis teams as housing issues may be a reason for accessing care or contribute to the presenting condition. Nurses are in an ideal position to evaluate housing needs among emergency department patients. Services outside of the emergency department are also needed to address housing issues, particularly outside of regular office hours.

Abstract: Individuals who have mental health issues and are homeless or in housing crisis have been found to access emergency departments more frequently than individuals with stable housing. While emergency departments primarily focus on medical issues, homeless individuals may require psychosocial support as well. This study examined issues around housing crises and emergency department use for individuals with mental illness in Canada. Collecting baseline data about these issues is important to inform subsequent interventions. Administrative data from a hospital emergency department and psychiatric crisis service were collected, and five individuals accessing the emergency department for psychiatric reasons were interviewed. Results indicated that individuals with an identified housing crisis accessed the emergency department 930 times in 6 months. None of the interview participants identified housing as the primary reason for accessing the emergency department, but all noted that housing was a contributing stressor. Future research is needed to examine ways in which discharge to homelessness from emergency departments can be avoided and identify alternative services to address housing concerns, particularly for individuals with mental illness. Crisis service and emergency department staff, especially nurses, can play an important role in screening for housing issues and connecting individuals to outside services.

Keywords: acute hospital; homelessness; housing; psychiatric emergency nursing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Homeless Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Housing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ontario
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data*