Public Health and Homelessness

Health Protection, Perspectives Blog: Hazel D. Dean, ScD, MPH

Homelessness is associated with disproportionate rates of various chronic and infectious diseases, poor mental health, substance abuse, and violence. These are real public health issues, and CDC is committed to addressing these issues in our public health work. Whether it’s providing epi-aid assistance for a TB outbreak in a shelter, or facilitating integrative STD/HIV/Hepatitis/TB screening and treatment services for those affected by unstable housing, we are committed to ensuring the opportunity for good health to all through enhanced prevention efforts and improved access to care.

The communities of persons affected by homelessness and those at risk of having inadequate or unstable housing are unfortunately growing. With the increase in foreclosures and other economic challenges, we must find ways to respond to the health needs of all populations. This country leads the world in many areas related to health, e.g., medical research and care, but we are not in the top 25 healthiest nations. But we can be again through ingenuity, commitment, awareness, and compassion. To succeed, we must be aware of individual and community factors in all populations. It is not one size fits all. We must provide health services in ways that fit the community, the city, and the individual.

Addressing the public health needs of the homeless population requires collaborative and integrative efforts across CDC and with our partners and constituents. Together, we are working to identify ways we can improve health across the spectrum of factors and environments that affect health choices. There is much that we can do to expand the way we think, talk about, and act to improve the health of all people in this country.

In 2009, CDC held an external consultation on Addressing Social Determinants of Health: Accelerating the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB. Since this consultation, the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STDs, and TB Prevention has publish on our web site numerous resources to assist colleagues and partners in their efforts to address health and the factors that influence it.

Our commitment to prioritizing and promoting health equity is one of the six goals of the Center’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. We have much work to do and many conversations to have. In August, CDC is hosting a symposium that will focus on our work related to homelessness. The symposium will serve as a forum where the Agency’s work will be highlighted and better defined. The symposium will help facilitate the development of a network of CDC scientific and programmatic staff whose collective work contributes to the agency’s ability to reduce the health risks associated with homelessness.

I look forward to sharing more on these events and other activities of this Center through this blog and other communication tools. I invite your comments and input.


  1. LGBTQA homeless Youth , an epidemic on rise needs addressing also. thanks

  2. Sharon Ayala says:

    Ms. Dean,
    I would like to thank you for speaking out on a subject that I have been trying to get people to see and understand for quite some time.
    My name is Sharon Ayala and I am a Ph.D. student in Public Health at Walden University. One of my reports for this quarter was about mental health issues in South Carolina; homelessness among those individuals with mental issues, especially the children. Suicide is on the rise and there seems to be not enough caring about what the future holds.
    At this particular time, I would be very interested in seeing how I could be involved with your perspective on public health and homelessness. I look forward to hearing more from you on this issue and others.
    Again, thanks for the disseminating information about this topic.

  3. Roslyn Love says:

    Ms. Dean,
    Thank you for the information. I see here daily in Cincinnati, Ohio, homelessness and wonder about the deeper impact of bad health that comes associated with different individuals. The article was very informative.
    I am a student at the University of Maryland University College, Receiving a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration/MBA.
    I am interesed in networking, and networking information as I start a small non-profit organization for the homeless.
    Roslyn Love

  4. Mindy Domb says:

    Thank you for this post and for focusing on the intersecting risks of homelessness and HIV/AIDS. The Statewide Homeless/HIV Integration Project (SH/HIP)works with homeless service providers to integrate HIV/AIDS education, assessment, services and referrals into homeless services.
    We partner with homeless shelters and other health and human service providers who work with people experiencing homelessness to identify activities they could undertake to support their guests (and program participants, patients or clients) around HIV/AIDS related issues. We offer training, resources and technical assistance to support their work.
    Check our our services and free resources at: and follow us on twitter at:

  5. Yvonne Perret says:

    I, too, am appreciative of raising the issue of public health and homelessness. Another often missed health problem is histories of trauma and head injury. In my work assisting adults who are homeless and who have mental illness, I see a real need for much more thorough assessments of individuals. I’d be delighted to be any part of such an effort. And, of course, families and young children are an increasing group of the population of folks who are homeless. Thank you.

  6. A.J. Holm says:

    Dear Ms. Dean and All,

    Thank you for your original article and additional comments. Reading though this has helped me find my focus for my final MPH paper at Drexel University.

    I am currently a volunteer with St. John’s Shelter Program in Sacramento and would like my paper to add value to their program and similar organizations at the same time improve my capacity to better represent and advocate for this population.

    The blight of homeless has always been a passion of mine. Back in the 90’s, I briefly worked for Episcopal Community Services in San Francisco and have volunteered and supported several other organizations through out my life. Both St. John’s Shelter Program and Episcopal Community Services are great examples of successes in helping homeless people rebuild their lives through “real world” employment and addressing health constraints and education.

    Thank you again for helping me regain focus and hopefully provide assistance to this most deserving population.

    All the best,



Speak Your Mind