Physical Illnesses Associated With Childhood Homelessness: A Literature Review

Ir J Med Sci. 2020 May 8. doi: 10.1007/s11845-020-02233-3. Online ahead of print.


Background: Childhood homelessness is a growing concern in Ireland [1] creating a paediatric subpopulation at increased risk of physical illnesses, many with life-long consequences [2].

Aim: Our aim was to identify and categorize the physical morbidities prevalent in homeless children.

Methods: A review of the English-language literature on physical morbidities affecting homeless children (defined as ≤ 18 years of age) published from 1999 to 2019 was conducted.

Results: Respiratory issues were the most commonly cited illnesses affecting homeless children, including asthma, upper respiratory tract infections, and chronic cough [3]. Homeless children were described as being at increased risk for contracting infectious diseases, with many studies placing emphasis on the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS transmission [4, 5]. Dermatologic concerns for this population comprised of scabies and head lice infestation, dermatitis, and abrasions [3, 6]. Malnutrition manifested as a range of physical morbidities, including childhood obesity [7], iron deficiency anemia [4], and stunted growth [8]. Studies demonstrated a higher prevalence of poor dental [7] and ocular health [9] in this population as well. Many articles also commented on the risk factors predisposing homeless children to these physical health concerns, which can broadly be categorized as limited access to health care, poor living conditions, and lack of education [3, 10].

Conclusion: This literature review summarized the physical illnesses prevalent among homeless children and the contributing factors leading to them. Gaps in the literature were also identified and included a dearth of studies focusing on younger children compared with adolescents. Further research into prevention and intervention programs for this vulnerable population is urgently needed.

Keywords: Childhood homelessness; Homeless health; Homeless youth; Homelessness-associated illness; Physical illness.

Publication types

  • Review