Half of homeless men and women in Abbotsford visited ER last year: survey

New point-in-time count of Abbotsford’s homeless population found more than 230 people

More than half of 233 homeless people surveyed in Abbotsford earlier this year reported using the emergency room over the last year. And one-third has ended up in an ambulance, a new report notes.

Those figures come from a survey of homeless men, women and youth conducted this spring.

A total of 233 people without a home were counted this spring in a survey required for the city’s ongoing co-ordinated intake referral program. That figure is 15 per cent lower than the 274 people counted last year in a similar survey. It’s unclear whether fewer people are actually homeless – the study’s conductors note that counts likely understate the true number of homeless people, and a range of variables can affect just how many are surveyed. But the report does confirm previous findings about the range of factors that end up contributing to a person’s lack of housing.

Among those findings is that people who are homeless use health care services at a rate that far outstrips most other segments of the population. Of the 233 people, 127 reported using an emergency room – a rate that is actually down slightly from last year’s survey. The use of ambulances was also in line with 2017’s findings.

More people reported using the emergency room than accessing the food bank, harm reduction supplies or extreme weather shelters.

The findings echo previous research that has exposed the cost of homelessness to the Canadian health care systems. One study found that homeless people visit emergency rooms, on average, twice a year, and that when they are admitted, they cost $2,559 more per patient than those who have housing.

Locally, Fraser Health has blamed increasing patient loads on the number of homeless men and women who end up in hospitals and stay longer than anticipated.

The writers of the report on the survey suggest that, rather than accepting health-care-related costs of homelessness, it would be wiser to house such people.

“These costs are not sustainable and are pressuring an already maxed out system,” the report says. “Funds could be better served by investing in the physical, mental, and social well-being of the population.”

A majority of people said housing was either too expensive for their income or otherwise not suitable. Around one in three respondents said their addiction had contributed to their lack of housing, with around one in five citing mental health.

Around one-quarter of respondents cited discrimination. And around 30 per cent of those surveyed identified as First Nations, despite composing a much smaller segment of Fraser Valley residents.

RELATED: 2017 Homelessness count records 79 per cent increase in Abbotsford

RELATED: Nearly 700 homeless youth in Metro Vancouver point to gaps in housing, advocates say

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