Nearly half of Venice homeless have serious health problems

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St. Joseph’s Center has released a one-year update on its health vulnerability report on Venice homeless people. The study has been expanded to include those living in vehicles. Interviews show that 31 percent had been housed in Venice before becoming homeless.

Last year, St. Joseph’s surveyed 222 people living on Venice streets and determined that 44 percent of them were medically vulnerable. Medical problems included frostbite/hypothermia from exposure (20 individuals), cirrhosis/end stage liver disease (15), end stage renal disease or dialysis (10), HIV/AIDS (2), more than three emergency room visits in last three months (66), and the dreaded tri-morbid, that is, simultaneous psychiatric, substance abuse and chronic medical conditions (75).

This year’s report included those living in vehicles, and surprisingly showed a greater proportion, 46 percent, were medically vulnerable, that is, had a high mortality risk. The sample size was smaller, just 48 individuals. The new report found that only 2 percent of veterans living in vehicles receive Veterans Administration benefits. But 40 percent of those interviewed reported being the victim of a violent attack since becoming homeless. Slightly more than 30 percent received some income from social security programs, while nearly 15 percent earned payments for recycling cans and bottles.

Even with only preliminary findings, the St. Joseph’s survey contradicts those who have the image of homeless people as outsiders who are a threat to the better off population of Venice. Instead, an image emerges of a physically ill group who are often the victims of violence in the community.

In addition to the exposure to the elements that comes with homelessness, they are also coping with serious medical and mental conditions, while fending off harassment from police and irate homeowners. In light of this report, those who advocate a “carrot and stick” approach to men, women and children, including the seriously ill, should think twice about their hostility and change their policy to a “carrot and care” approach.

You can view the St. Joseph’s report at: http://tinyurl.com/29rzan7

–Jim Smith

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