In the U.S., health disparities run along racial lines, with Black Americans continuing to experience poorer health outcomes than white Americans overall. Poor health can negatively affect many areas of life, including by contributing to financial instability that may lead to housing loss. In this article, the fourth in our series exploring the intersection of race and homelessness, we delve into this vital topic.
According to the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease, stroke, and cancer are just a few of the illnesses Black Americans are at higher risk for. Young Black individuals are also more likely to have conditions generally associated with older age brackets like high blood pressure and diabetes.
"There are very few diseases where a genetic link for African Americans has been proven or even suggested by the data," said Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. "The reasons are the same as those that largely drive the health of everyone in this society. It's what we call the social determinants of health: access to clean water, clean food, good education, good jobs, good housing. African Americans experience all of those at reduced rates."
Not only are Black Americans more likely to experience numerous health conditions, but they are also less likely to receive adequate treatment for them.
"There are lots of ways that the racism and bias within the health system provides poor care to African Americans. A number of studies have shown that African Americans presenting with the same symptoms as white Americans will receive different diagnoses. Those who get the same diagnosis will often get different treatments," Watts continued.
Poor health causes many to face challenges maintaining employment. Individuals may need to take time off or lose their ability to work, and therefore could experience job loss. Because Black Americans face major health concerns with greater frequency, they have a higher likelihood of experiencing such complications with employment. Additionally, medical expenses may take up a larger percentage of spending among Black households because they are already more likely to be facing poverty.
"African Americans have about 1/13th of the household wealth white Americans do due to numerous systemic factors, so, in that situation, if you fall upon hard times, you won't be able to maintain your housing because you don't have a financial buffer," said Watts.
For those who do become unhoused, health issues are likely to compound.
"The condition of homelessness is hazardous to one's health and it makes it harder to receive treatment or receive it in an effective way. That's where health care for the homeless programs like The Night Ministry and those that the National Health Care for the Homeless Council supports intervene," said Watts. "That's the cycle that we are breaking. And hopefully when we do our work best, we're also helping people get linked to housing, which we know is what they really need."
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