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‘Sicker than the rest of us” — More docs making house calls to people without houses (

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Instead of trying to powerwash the problem away, California’s hospitals, public health departments and homeless service organizations are increasingly sending trained health practitioners into homeless encampments in a quest to improve health outcomes for individual homeless people.

The reality of California’s homelessness crisis is that it has a bodycount. Life expectancy for those who are living outside is about 30 years shorter than those who are housed. The median age of death outside is about 52. 

An 2016 study found that L.A. County spent nearly $400 million in one year on its so-called “frequent flyers” -— the 5% of the homeless population in poorest health who most frequently cycle through publicly operated institutions like jails and hospitals. A RAND estimate placed the individual cost per person for another particularly sick study group around $38,000 annually. Neither of those estimates include insurance costs typically paid out by the California’s Medi-Cal program. 

There is some, but relatively limited, evidence that shows doctors deployed to homeless encampments directly reduces public health care expenditures. There are also patient-centered studies indicating that regular visits from health practitioners increase homeless patients’ engagement with primary care and behavioral care services

Street medicine is practiced in most California counties where there is street homelessness. Besides Los Angeles County, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Ventura, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Riverside, and Sacramento counties have dedicated public or private funding for some health-oriented homeless outreach.

To read more of Matt Tinoco's (KPCC) article, please click here.


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