Home > Women’s health and homelessness in Cork: a snapshot study.

Keane, Martin (2012) Women’s health and homelessness in Cork: a snapshot study. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 42, Summer 2012 , pp. 11-12.

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The Good Shepherd Services and Cork Simon Community, two voluntary agencies working with disadvantaged people in Cork, undertook a snapshot study of service users between 4 and 11 July 2011 in an attempt to document the health and related needs of people using their services.1 This article is based on data collected from 115 women who used the services during that week and were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  

Accommodation type and income status
Twenty seven per cent (31) of the women were living in emergency accommodation, 11 of them for six months or longer. Seventy-three per cent (84) were supported in different housing tenures, including high-support (9), low to medium support (11), local authority (20), private rental (31) and other (13). Eighty-seven per cent (100) reported having a medical card, indicating low income levels in this group.
 
Parental status
There were eight children living with their mothers (4) in emergency accommodation, ranging in age from eight months to 12 years; children belonging to the seven other women in emergency accommodation were living elsewhere.
 
Physical health
Fifty-seven per cent (66) self-reported a diagnosed physical health condition, the most common conditions being asthma, anaemia and high blood pressure. Twenty-eight per cent (32) reported two or more conditions, and 16% (18) reported three or more conditions; women reporting multiple conditions tended to live in emergency accommodation and high-support housing.  
 
Mental health
Fifty-two per cent (46) self-reported a diagnosed mental health condition, the most common conditions being depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Fifteen per cent (17) reported a diagnosed intellectual disability; these women tended to live in emergency accommodation and high-support housing. Thirty-six per cent (41) reported a combination of physical and mental health conditions; women in emergency accommodation and high-support housing tended to report combined diagnoses.
 
Alcohol and drug use
Forty per cent (46) self-reported alcohol use, with 24% (27) indicating possible problem use. Women in emergency accommodation and high-support housing tended to report problems with alcohol use, including falling down/head injuries, memory loss and gastric problems. Twenty per cent (23) reported using drugs. Drug use was higher among women in emergency accommodation and high-support housing than among women in local authority and private rented housing; no use of drugs was reported by women in low–medium support housing. Heroin, cannabis, head shop substances and unprescribed benzodiazepines were the most common drugs used; 10 women reported injecting heroin. All 11 of the women living in emergency accommodation for six months or longer reported the use of drugs.
 
Self-harm, suicidal ideation and attempted suicide
Seventeen per cent (20) self-reported incidents of self-harm, 16% (19) reported experiencing suicidal ideation and 5% (6) reported a suicide attempt in the previous six months. Women with diagnosed mental health conditions, problem alcohol or drug use and living in emergency accommodation were more likely to have self-harmed, had suicidal thoughts and report a suicide attempt.
 
Health referrals
Twenty-eight per cent (29) self-reported an admission to Accident and Emergency (A&E), accounting for 38 admissions in the previous month, and 23% (26) had used hospital out-patient services, accounting for forty-one attendances in the previous month. The women reporting use of A&E and out-patient services tended to live in emergency accommodation and high-support housing, use drugs intravenously, have diagnosed mental health conditions and report problem alcohol use.  
 
Barriers to healthcare
Seventeen per cent (20) reported barriers to healthcare; these women tended to use drugs intravenously, have problems with alcohol use and have diagnosed mental health conditions. Self-reported barriers included not having a medical card, ‘other things being more important’ and previous negative experience.
 
Triggers for homelessness
Family conflict, domestic violence, relationship breakdown and personal alcohol and drug use were among the most common factors contributing to the women’s first experiencing homelessness.
 
Conclusion
This snapshot study provides a useful insight into the health and related needs of women in Cork who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness. These women do not form a homogenous grouping and at least 40 of the 115 who participated in the study appeared to be experiencing poorer health and related outcomes than the others. According to the authors: ‘The health and related issues appear to be starker for women in emergency accommodation, with much higher rates of drug use, intravenous drug use, problem alcohol use, self-harming, suicide ideation and attempted suicide. They appear to be starker again for women who are long-term homeless, with higher rates of heroin use and intravenous drug use’ (p. 23). In addition, women who self-reported diagnosed physical and mental health conditions tended to be living in emergency accommodation and high-support housing. These women also reported having used A&E and hospital out-patient services more frequently in the previous month. These findings suggest that poorer health and social outcomes are associated with living in emergency accommodation; a move towards more sustainable accommodation with appropriate supports might provide an opportunity for improved outcomes in the lives of the women affected in this study.
 
 
 
1. Good Shepherd Services and Cork Simon Community (2011) Women’s health and homelessness in Cork: a joint snapshot study of the health and related needs of women who are homeless in Cork 04 – 10 July  2011. Cork: Cork Simon Community.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/16071
Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 42, Summer 2012
Date:June 2012
Page Range:pp. 11-12
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 42, Summer 2012
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Electronic Only)
Subjects:G Health and disease > State of health
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland > Cork
T Demographic characteristics > Homeless person
MA-ML Social science, culture and community > Social condition > Homelessness > Homeless services
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Effects and consequences

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